There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But research shows if you incorporate some healthy lifestyle habits you might decrease your risk.
More than 747,000 Canadians live with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Globally there are at least 44 million people living with dementia.
Yes, the numbers are intimidating, but there’s growing evidence people can take action to try to avoid it.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 per cent of all diagnoses. Alzheimer's disease causes people’s thinking ability and memory to deteriorate over time.
What Causes Dementia/Alzheimer’s?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple. Experts believe a diagnosis is the result of many different criteria rather than one factor. And there’s no single test to confirm someone has the disease. Instead, doctors rely on a physical examination and patient history. That means seeing a doctor sooner rather than later is key to managing the disease effectively.
There’s also strong evidence demonstrating a heart-to-head connection. This is because several conditions known to increase risk of cardiovascular disease, like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. Some autopsy studies show that up to 80 per cent of individuals diagnosed with the disease had heart disease.
What Puts you At Risk?
Some factors linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s include age, genetics, environment and existing medical conditions.
We can’t change our age or our genetics, but medical experts recommend people consider lifestyle choices that appear to lower risk, including a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Dr. Gad Marshall, a Harvard Medical School assistant neurology professor, says it’s also important to understand the difference between somewhat expected memory loss and something more serious.
“Forgetting where you parked your car can be annoying. If it happens all the time, it can be disturbing and you may worry that it’s a sign of a more serious condition,” he says. “But don’t panic. There’s a difference between normal age-related memory slips, such as forgetting where the keys are, and more serious signs of memory loss, such as forgetting what car keys are used for.”
Symptoms that may suggest a serious problem include:
- Frequent memory loss
- Confusion about locations
- Taking longer to accomplish normal daily tasks
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Loss of spontaneity
- Mood and personality changes
10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia
- Break a sweat -Regular cardiovascular exercise elevates heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Studies show a link between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Work your brain - Brains of all ages like to be educated. Read a book, take a class or learn something online.
- Take care of your mental health - Studies show a history of depression can be linked to cognitive decline. See your doctor if you have anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns.
- Butt out - Smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can bring that risk down to levels which are comparable to those in non-smokers.
- Follow your heart - Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes put you at risk of cardiovascular disease. Take care of your heart and your brain can follow.
- Heads up - Brain injury can increase risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Some ways to avoid brain injuries include wearing a seat belt, using a helmet when bike riding or preventing falls.
- Eat healthy - Getting a balanced diet that’s lower in fat and higher in fruits and vegetables will help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Sleep on it - Getting good quality sleep will give your brain the healthy break it needs.
- Friends are good for your health - Socializing can support brain health. Hang out with friends and family, volunteer, just get out and see people!
- Put your brain to the test - When you challenge and activate your mind, researchers believe it may have short and long-term benefits for your brain. Build something, do a jigsaw puzzle, play a game or tap into your artistic talents. Your brain will thank you.
September is World Alzheimer's Month. To learn more or to find answers to the most frequently asked questions around World Alzheimer's Month, click here.