Today, one in eight Americans over the age of 65 live with Alzheimer’s Disease.
This progressive brain disorder causes brain cells to degenerate and die, which results in a continuing decline in memory and other mental functions. Alzheimer’s literally shrinks the brain. (Check out this illustration from the BrightFocus Foundation.)
Each year, Alzheimer’s costs 79,000 people their lives, making it the sixth leading cause of death. It also costs American society – $200 billion this year alone, according to the Alzheimer’s Association‘s projection.
Scientists haven’t yet discovered a proven way to cure or prevent the disorder, but recent research connects certain lifestyle changes with decreased chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Considering that these lifestyle changes will improve your physical health or mental function even if Alzheimer’s weren’t a concern, you have little to lose…
- Exercise your brain. Two studies published last week by the American Academy of Neurology support existing evidence of a connection between your mental activity now and your mental acuity later in life. In other words, keeping mentally active appears to preserve your mental skills, which may otherwise weaken with time. Examples of ways to challenge your brain include reading, playing board games, and doing crossword puzzles.
- Exercise your body. This tip is also backed by numerous studies – of mice and humans. The Mayo Clinic has even called exercise the “best bet” for preventing Alzheimer’s. Note, though, that “exercise” in this case means getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes several times a week.
- Protect your health. A study published by the American Academy of Neurology last year found that seniors who rated their health as poor had greater chances of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. A second study published last year found that even a modest reduction of certain medical risk factors – smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, midlife high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression – could prevent 3 million cases of Alzheimer’s worldwide.
- Protect your mental health. A 10-year study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in November connected poor psychological health (specifically depression and anxiety) to a greater chance of dying from Alzheimer’s Disease. As if you needed another reason to relieve stress, “One possibility, the researchers propose, is that chronic levels of psychological distress may raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Persistently high levels of cortisol, in turn, may have toxic effects on the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is critical for memory.”
- Learn a foreign language. An article about the benefits of being bilingual, published in The New York Times last month, cited a recent University of California-San Diego study. It found that people with a higher degree of bilingualism were more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In other words, the more proficient you are at a second language, the later the disease onset.