We spend a lot of time planning for our future. We work hard to provide the best we can for our families and loved ones—we use savings plans, we invest in property, we create and document memories with photos and videos. Most of us don’t actively worry about Alzheimer’s disease.
But what happens if, as we age, we start to forget how to access our memories? What happens if, as we age, we start to forget those with whom we created these memories and for whom we planned all these years?
More than 44 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. With our increased lifespans, that number is on the rise.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Memory loss, behaviour and mood changes, concerns with judgement and reasoning, and difficulty with communication are all symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe that these symptoms develop due to loss of brain cells and impairment in nerve connections. Healthy aging starts with the fundamentals of healthy living. Starting today, what are the steps you can take to keep your body healthy and mind fresh?
Focus on whole foods
Eating well is not meant to be complicated. It involves you making a decision to try your best, the majority of the time, to eat fresh whole foods. This includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish, and healthy fats—each of which has been independently shown to dramatically reduce the risk of dementia. The less food that comes from a package or a box, the better.
A dietary pattern that has been demonstrated in research to reduce cognitive decline is the Mediterranean diet. In a study that examined more than 1,500,000 adults followed from three to 18 years, consuming the Mediterranean diet could reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 20 percent.
While there may be variations to the Mediterranean Diet, all of them share the following:
- plenty of varieties of fruits and vegetables
- olive oil as the primary source of healthy fats
- fish and poultry in moderate amounts
- red meat in low amounts
- red wine in low to moderate amounts
Combining the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets to form the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet has shown some promise for Alzheimer’s disease as well. By focusing on higher intake of plant-based foods and minimal animal and saturated fats, the MIND diet demonstrated a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 53 percent.
Coffee or tea?
Enjoy your morning or mid-afternoon cup of coffee? What about the mid-morning or after-dinner tea? Turns out drinking coffee and tea may help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In a study of more than 1,400 participants, having three to five cups of coffee per day at midlife may decrease risk by up to 65 percent.
Just be mindful of how much cream and sugar gets added to your coffee. And, of course, if you experience side effects from drinking coffee such as heart palpitations or digestive upset, you may consider switching to green tea. Japanese researchers found consuming 1 cup of green tea per day could decrease risk of cognitive impairment by up to 38 percent.
Take supportive supplements
Some supplements that have been studied with varying degrees of success in reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- omega-3 fish oils
- Bacopa monnieri
- vitamin E
- huperzine A
Discuss with your health care provider if you are considering starting a supplement. Sometimes these can interact with medications or other supplements you are currently taking.
Exercise your body
Just move. That’s what it comes down to. No matter what your exercise of choice is, those who stay active experience slower cognitive decline. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercising can reduce stress, strengthen bones and build muscles, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease (including diabetes and high blood pressure), and help reduce risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Simply staying active several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes may help maintain reasoning and learning skills; improve memory, judgment, and thinking abilities; and delay start or even slow progress of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers think this may be related to increasing blood flow to the brain—carrying nutrients and oxygen to this very vital organ of our body.
Mix up your workouts
It is important to balance both aerobic and non-aerobic workouts. That means doing activities that increase your heart rate (brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, etc.) along with gentle resistance workouts (stretching, lifting weights, toning exercises, etc).
Increasing your heart rate can also reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases. Resistance workouts help you maintain or gain muscle mass and help with sense of balance. If you’re unsure how to start, schedule a visit with your local gym or community centre.
Exercise your mind
If you don’t use it, you lose it. Keep challenging your mind. Research has shown that those who stay mentally active tend to experience less cognitive decline. In a study of more than 700 patients, being cognitively active reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 2.6 times compared to those who were cognitively inactive.
In another study of more than 2,000 participants, training in memory, reasoning, and information processing helped maintain a higher level of quality of life. Participants were more able to manage finances, more mobile, and more able to drive and stay independent.
Try new things
Pick an activity that suits your preference—do crossword puzzles or Sudoku, learn a new language, learn a new driving or biking route. The point is that it does not matter which type of challenge you take. Just continue to learn things, stay curious, and engage with the new material. Join book clubs, play board games, volunteer at nonprofit organizations, meet with your neighbours, and discuss the daily news. There is no shortage of options for you to choose from.