13 Things Neurologists Do to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

January 12, 2023 at 1:00 p.m.
Exercise is one of 13 tips from neurologists to help prevent Alzheimer's disease
Exercise is one of 13 tips from neurologists to help prevent Alzheimer's disease

A recent article by Kim Fredericks looked at neurologists’ advice for helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

While Alzheimer’s disease currently has no cure, ongoing research shows that there are specific lifestyle choices you can make for reducing your risk and delaying the onset of the degenerative disorder. Here are the 13 steps you can take to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. Get enough sleep. Many people have difficulties getting enough restful sleep, especially as they grow older. Research shows that levels of brain-damaging proteins rise without a good night’s sleep. “You have to commit to the importance of sleep,” says Gayatri Devi, MD, who is a professor of neurology. “I prioritize sleep as one of the most important activities I do—I will leave a party early in order to get a good night’s sleep.”

2. Stay socially active. Despite Dr. Devi’s habit of leaving a party early in order to get enough sleep, saying yes to social invitations is important, according to a 2019 study published in PLOS Medicine. The study looked at social activity with friends for people in their 60s and found that staying socially connected can lower your risk of dementia by 12%. “There is something intrinsically valuable about social engagement,” says Dr. Knopman. “It makes sense that those who are more engaged, especially socially, will think more positively and have a better outlook on life.”

3. Keep learning. Education and learning seems to build a “cognitive reserve,” which enables the brain to better withstand neurological damage. It’s never too late to keep learning. Consider checking out continuing education courses, takin up a musical instrument, or stretching your brain in other ways.

4. Learn a second language. Studies show that speaking more than one language can protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Dr. Knopman theorizes that the effort to communicate in more than one language is like a workout for the brain, helping to preserve gray matter and neurons.

5. Do it yourself. Challenging your brain in a variety of ways can enhance your memory as you age. Dr. Devi has her own take on this: “If there is a problem with the phone or the plumbing, I will try to fix this on my own, it is good for my brain.” She recently took up the challenge of designing and building a window seat. The new activities and challenges are a way to keep different parts of your brain thriving.

6. Stay active. You’ve all heard it before: exercise is crucial to not only your wellbeing in general but specifically helps to protect your brain health. One research study found that people who exercise regularly can slow cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by 30% and drops the risk of Alzheimer’s by 45%. “When you are physically active, you burn more calories and you’re less likely to be obese,” explains Dr. Knopman. “You’ll have better cardiovascular health because you are pushing your heart rate.”

7. Take care of your heart. “What is good for the heart is good for the brain,” says Dr. Devi. The same conditions that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease – such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol – also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. “Anything that keeps the heart healthy is directly related to brain health,” adds Dr. Devi. It also reduces the risk of stroke, which can cause its own kind of dementia called vascular dementia.

8. Lower your stress levels. Persistent stress can take a toll on the brain with one study indicating that chronic stress can accelerate Alzheimer’s disease. “When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone linked to memory trouble,” writes Kim Fredericks. Stress can also lead to depression and anxiety, which also increases your risk for dementia.

9. Try the MIND diet. The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The MIND diet is designed specifically for brain heath. In this dietary approach, you eat at least three servings of whole grains a day, two portions of vegetables (one of which must be a leafy green), snack on nuts, eat lean proteins, eat berries, and have a glass of wine (especially red wine) a day. According to research in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, those who follow this diet rigorously were able to lower their risk of cognitive decline later in life.

10. Get your snoring checked out. Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s upper airway becomes blocked during sleep, reducing or stopping airflow. Sleep apnea can cause snoring, snorting and prevents restful sleep. If left untreated it can cause series health consequences including cardiovascular trouble and decline of cognitive function.

11. Protect your head. There is a strong link between serious head trauma and developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, especially if the injury involves loss of consciousness, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Any head injury that requires medical attention may also increase your risk. So take care, wear a helmet while cycling, wear a seat belt when in the car, and take as many precautions as possible to make your home fall-proof.

12. Have some tea. Green tea may reduce the risk of dementia, according to a recent systematic review. There is a compound in green tea that can disrupt the formation of plaques that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

13. Understand Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Take the time to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor.

To read the full article with links to scientific studies as well as links to helpful suggestions for all 13 tips, click here.

TheHealthy.com is an online publication from the Reader’s Digest that combines expertise from doctors, nutritionists, trainers and other professionals with reporting from award-winning journalists. 
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