dementiaCan You Prevent Alzheimer’s (Dementia) Disease?

It’s estimated that 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Most of those people are over the age of 65. Many of us know someone with the disease. If you do, you’ve probably experienced the impact the disease has on not only the person with it  but their friends and family members, which may have you asking yourself – ‘can you prevent Alzheimer’s disease?’

(Quick side note: There is a lot of confusion between what is Alzheimer’s and what is dementia. To put it simply, Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. Learn more about the differences between the two here.)

Risk Factors

Before we get into how you can prevent yourself from developing Alzheimer’s, let’s look at your risk factors. They are:

  • Age
  • Family History
  • Genetics

Roughly one-third of the population over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s. If you have a parent or sibling with the disease, you are more likely to develop it yourself. There are also two categories of genes that indicate if you will develop the disease. They are risk genes and deterministic genes. Risk genes increase your odds but aren’t a guarantee. Deterministic genes guarantee you will, but you should also know that they are rare.

Alzheimer’s/Dementia Prevention

As we mentioned above, the majority of those with Alzheimer’s are older than 65. They have what’s called Late On-Set Alzheimer’s. Those who develop it before age 65 have Early On-Set Alzheimer’s. For those people (one percent of the population), there is currently nothing they can do to prevent it or delay it. “Individuals who have these genetic mutations are guaranteed to develop the disease,” cites the Alzheimer’s Association.

While research is still not conclusive, it does appear that for Late On-Set Alzheimer’s there may be things you can do to prevent or delay the onset of the disease.

A Good Reason to Get More Sleep

As Harvard points out, the discussion around Alzheimer’s often beings with amyloid proteins. These proteins build up in your brain throughout the day. During slow-wave sleep, your brain simply sweeps out the excess proteins. Studies suggest that the more interrupted your sleep is, the more the proteins build up, forming plaque on the brain tissue.

However, it’s important to note that this is similar to the chicken and egg metaphor. Are you not sleeping well because of the build up or is the not sleeping causing the build up? This is still yet to be determined.

Because of this, Dr. Brad Dickerson, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, recommends you to see your health care provider about any sleep issues you may be having. “It could go a long way toward protecting your little grey cells,” he says.

The Relationship Between Nutrition and Alzheimer’s

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has their Dietary Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention.  They say these guidelines can boost brain health and reduce your risk of developing the disease. Here’s what they suggest:

  • Get an hour and a half of aerobic exercise each week
  • Consume 15 mg of vitamin E each day
  • Eat plant-based foods
  • Take 2.4 mcg of vitamin B12 per day
  • Choose Aluminum-Free products
  • Choose vitamins without iron or copper
  • Cut back on saturated and trans fats

Exercise and Alzheimer’s

Regardless of whether you’re worried about Alzheimer’s or not, we all know exercise is good for us. Exercising increases the blood flow throughout your body, including your brain. That can help reduce dementia risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

There are a lot of exercise activities that can not only get your heart rate up but require mental muscles as well, such as dancing.