While Alzheimer’s disease, for many years, has ranked as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, a recent study has found it may actually be the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind heart disease and cancer.
No cure has yet been found for this fatal disease—although researchers are looking—but a number of studies have revealed there may be ways to lessen your risk of getting the disease, or at least delay it for a while.
Practice Regular Exercise
Physical exercise can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of Alzheimer’s disease by half, according to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation. That’s promising! It can also help those who are already experiencing the disease.
Try these exercises to start your routine:
- Walk the block for 30 minutes every day.
- Go for a swim for 30 minutes whenever you can.
- Add in a few strength exercises into your weekly routine.
Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
By reducing your risk of heart disease with a healthy diet, you can also reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One proven method is the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in nuts, whole grains, fish, olive oil and fresh produce. It can also benefit those with diabetes.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
For your brain to operate at its full capacity, it needs a restful night’s sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep can help you think clearly, solve problems and process, store and recall information. Memory formation and retention requires quality sleep—at least eight hours of sleep every night.
If you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, try this:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time, consistently.
- Eliminate naps.
- Ban television and computers from your bedroom.
- Do something relaxing before bed like taking a hot bath, writing in your journal, etc.
Stress does not help your brain; it hurts it. If you struggle with stress, try these stress management tips:
- Take deep breaths. Control your breathing so it gets back to normal and is sending the right amount of oxygen to the brain.
- Take a walk.
- Play with your pet.
- Take a hot bath to relax.
- Practice reflection or meditation.
Many studies associate spirituality with better brain health.
Increase Your Social Activity
Relationships help our memory and cognitive state. Stay connected with others. As we age, we often become more isolated. Try these steps to develop new relationships and maintain old friendships:
- Join a club.
- Go to your community center or senior center and get involved.
- Volunteer somewhere.
- Take classes at a gym or community college to be around people and continue learning.
- Call your old friends or email them to stay in touch.
- Stay connected with friends through social networks.
- Meet your neighbors.
- Get out by going to the movies, museums, the park, the community pool, etc.
- Become more involved in your church (Bible study groups, service projects, serving committees, etc.)
Be a Constant Learner
You may have heard this before, but making yourself learn new things continually is a great way to combat Alzheimer’s disease.
Tip: Set aside some time every day to learn something new and stimulate your mind.
Here are some great activities to try:
- Study a foreign language.
- Practice a musical instrument.
- Learn sign language.
- Read a good book or the newspaper.
- Begin a new hobby.
- Create rhymes and patterns to help strengthen your memory.
- Play strategy games like Settlers of Catan or Risk.
- Work a puzzle.
- Play other board games or cards.
- Work word or number games.
- Solve riddles.
- Take a new route to work or the grocery store.
- Rearrange an area you work with everyday to work your memory.
- Eat with your non-dominant hand or try to write with it.
- Craft. New research has shown that crafting or creating can help people who suffer with anxiety, depression or pain. It can also ease your stress and protect your brain as a result of aging. This could include: knitting, art, cooking, quilting, music, sewing, drawing, photography or cake decorating. Crafting is one unique hobby that can reach different areas of your brain. It can improve your memory and attention span while using your creative side, visual processor and your problem-solving abilities.
Kick the Bad Habits
If you’re serious about lessening your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s time to quit smoking and binge drinking. Smoking for those over 65 increases the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s by 79 percent. By quitting these two bad habits, you can buy yourself some more time before the disease hits—up to seven years.
Avoid Head Trauma
As you get older, your risk of falling increases. When people fall, many often experience some kind of head injury—especially if you’re older—which can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
To combat this risk, find some good balance and coordination exercises. They will help you develop better balance and prevent falls. Also, go through and make sure your house is trip-proof. Remove or alter anything that may cause you to trip and fall.
Older individuals are not the only ones at high risk for head injuries though. Young men and women who are active in sports like football, boxing, soccer, skating, bicycling or even riding a motorcycle are also very vulnerable to head injuries. For those men and women who fall into this category, wear a helmet.
Some factors are out of our control, like our genetic makeup and aging, but by taking some of these steps we have a better chance of fighting this disease.
Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 percent of dementia cases in the U.S. However, as technology and medicine advances and our awareness increases, we may be able to lessen our vulnerability toward this disease and see that number start to decrease.
For more information about how you can lessen your risk of Alzheimer’s, see this infographic on How Memory Works, which talks about the memory process, common causes of memory loss and ways to improve memory.