Dementia is a difficult disease to deal with, both for the person who has it and for their loved ones. There are many types of dementia, some of which include Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, Huntington’s disease, and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (1). But Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most well-known and common form of dementia. Its effects can be devastating. Thankfully, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help with Alzheimer’s prevention.
Fast Facts About Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
Dementia is a term used to describe the range of conditions that cause a loss of cognitive functioning (2). As of 2015, there were 48.5 million people living with dementia worldwide, and this number is projected to double every 20 years (3). In the U.S., Alzheimer’s in particular is the 6th leading cause of death and 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s today (4).
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every decade after the age of 60 (5). Women develop the disease more often than men, which can be partially attributed to the fact that they live longer lives (5).
Alzheimer’s Symptoms – What To Look Out For
Alzheimer’s is a gradual process; it doesn’t just happen overnight. Alzheimer’s involves a decline in cognitive and behavioral function that interferes with your ability to function in day-to-day life (2). Some telltale signs of Alzheimer’s include:
- A reduced ability to take in and remember information (2)
- Impaired spatial awareness (2)
- Personality changes (2)
- Impaired reasoning abilities (2)
- Difficulty speaking, writing, and reading (2)
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
In recent years, Alzheimer’s disease has been dubbed “type 3 diabetes”, because insulin signaling plays an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s (6). Individuals who are insulin resistant, have type 2 diabetes, obesity, or other metabolic diseases have an increased risk for developing a few forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s (8). This finding supports the theory that cardiovascular health and brain health are connected, something that professionals have suspected for many years (9).
Maintaining good blood vessel health through the regulation of LDL (“bad cholesterol”) intake is essential to preventing Alzheimer’s disease (9). Producing too much “bad cholesterol” leads to high blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels in the brain and affect your memory and thinking (10).Cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer’s disease are also both characterized by elevated blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is affected by dietary intakes of vitamins B2, B6, B9 (folic acid), and B12 (11).
Another factor that plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease is genetics. If a relative in your immediate family, such as your sibling or parent, has Alzheimer’s, you have an increased risk for developing the disease (5). However, not everyone with a genetic risk develops the disease (5). Preventing Alzheimer’s and reversing the memory loss that comes with it is possible through lifestyle changes.
8 Ways to Reverse Memory Loss
1. Regulate Your Blood Sugar Levels
In one study that followed 5,189 people over a 10-year period, it was found that people with high blood sugar had a faster cognitive decline than their counterparts with normal blood sugar (12). Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels and regulate it through staying hydrated, exercising, and choosing foods with a low glycemic index (20).
2. Incorporate Healthy Fats Into Your Diet
HDL (“good cholesterol”) plays a beneficial role in blood vessel health, which is the structure that ultimately keeps your brain intact (9). Incorporating more monounsaturated fats, like avocados and olive oil, into your diet can do wonders for your cognitive function (13). In one study that followed the diet of Alzheimer’s patients, it was found that adopting a 70% fat diet for 3 months drastically improved the cognition of these patients (21).
3. Exercise More
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It’s no secret that exercise has a multitude of benefits, including improving cardiovascular and brain health (14). Cardiovascular exercise elevates your heart rate, which in turn increases blood flow to your brain (14).
4. Manage Your Stress Levels
Persistent stress can cause chemical imbalances and vascular changes that are damaging to your brain cells (15). Manage your stress by taking time for yourself, accepting what cannot be changed, and seeking out support (15)
5. Get Adequate Sleep
One case study of 32 patients with dementia found that the less REM sleep (also known as dream-stage sleep) a person has, the higher their risk of dementia (16). Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night in order to keep your brain in tiptop shape.
6. Adopt An Anti Inflammatory Diet
Researchers have found that certain foods and nutrients have the ability to modulate the inflammatory process, which is one factor that contributes to dementia (17). Diets with lower levels of vitamin E, D, B5, B2, calcium, and omega 3 results in lower grey brain matter and worse cognitive functioning capabilities (17). Diets that incorporate more nuts, fish, and omega-3 polyunsaturated acids, on the other hand, have been associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (17).
7. Take Supplements
Take vitamin E, vitamin C, and folic acid (B9) supplements. Folic acid can reduce homocysteine levels while vitamins C and E, when taken together, may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by 20% (18).
8. Keep Your Mind Active
Keeping an active mind is one of the best ways to prevent memory loss and a decline in cognitive ability (19). Exercise your brain regularly by learning a new language, playing Sukodu during your commutes, and reading your favorite books.
There are many factors that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and the best way to prevent it is to address the root causes. Making the right lifestyle changes early on will give you and your brain the best chance at a healthy future. Read this next to learn more about how to stop Alzheimer’s before it starts.
(1) Types of Dementia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/dementia/types-of-dementia.asp
(2) MacGill, M. (2018, February 13). What’s to know about Alzheimer’s disease? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159442.php
(3) Dementia statistics. (n.d). Retrieved from https://www.alz.co.uk/research/statistics
(4) 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/facts/
(5) Alzheimer’s Disease. (2017, December 30). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447
(6) De La Monte, S.M., Wands, J.R. (2008, November). Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes – Evidence Reviewed. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, 2 (6), 1101-1113. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769828/
(7) Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Fact Sheet. (2015, August 30). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet
(8) Neth, B.J., Craft, S. (2017, October 31). Insulin Resistance and Alzheimer’s Disease Bioenergetic Linkages. Frontiers in Aging Neroscience, 9 (345). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5671587/
(9) Is Cardiovascular Health The Key To Protecting The Brain Against Dementia? (2017, October 10). Retrieved from http://www.centreforbrainhealth.ca/news/2017/10/10/cardiovascular-health-key-protecting-brain-against-dementia
(10) Blood Pressure and Alzheimer’s Risk: What’s the Connection. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/blood-pressure-and-alzheimers-risk-whats-the-connection
(11) Vos, E. (2014, July 23). Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Homocysteine. BMJ, 349. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4433/rr/761349
(12) Zheng, F., Yan, L., Yang, Z., Zhong, B., Xie, W. (2018, April). HbA1c, diabetes and cognitive decline: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Diabetolgia, 61 (4), 839-848. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-017-4541-7#citeas
(13) Protecting your brain with “good” fat. (2012, September). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/protect-your-brain-with-good-fat
(14) Brain Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/brain-health/stay_physically_active.asp
(15) Reduce stress. (2017, November 18). Retrieved from http://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/About-dementia/Brain-health/Reduce-stress
(16) Pase, M.P., Himali, J.J., Grima, N.A., Beiser, A.S., Satizabal, C.L., Aparicio, H.J., Thomas, R.J., Gottlieb, D.J., Auerbach, S.H., Seshadri, S. (2017, September 19). Sleep architecture and the risk of incident dementia in the community. Neurology, 89 (12). Retrieved from http://n.neurology.org/content/89/12/1244
(17) Anderson, P. (2017, July 17). Inflammatory Dietary Pattern Linked to Brain Aging. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/883038
(18) Pillar 1: Diet & Supplements (n.d.) Retrieved from http://alzheimersprevention.org/4-pillars-of-prevention/pillar-1-diet-supplements/
(19) Brian Exercises and Dementia. (2016, October 4). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/preventing-dementia-brain-exercises#2
(20) Semeco, A. (2016, May 3). 15 Easy Ways to Lower Blood Sugar Levels Naturally. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar
(21) Sullivan, M.G. (2017, August 23). Fueling the Alzheimer’s brain with fat. Retrieved from https://www.mdedge.com/clinicalneurologynews/article/145220/alzheimers-cognition/fueling-alzheimers-brain-fat
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