Alzheimer's is a devastating brain disease. It's a major cause of dementia, or loss of cognitive abilities. Those who have it gradually lose their memories and struggle to communicate. Their personalities and behavior change. In time, they become dependent on caregivers.
The exact cause of Alzheimer's isn't known. But researchers continue to search for answers in the hopes of finding better treatments and ways to prevent the disease.
You can't control two of the strongest risk factors for the disease: age and heredity. But experts are finding that, in fact, lifestyle may play a very important role when it comes to who gets Alzheimer's and who doesn't.
Five strategies for brain health
You can take steps to keep your brain healthy. Some of these steps may also have other health benefits, such as helping you to control your weight, lower your risk of heart disease, and live a healthy, active life as you age. Research is ongoing to see if these healthy habits can also prevent or slow Alzheimer's disease.
- Stay socially engaged. Interacting with other people stimulates the brain. Spend time with family and friends. It's also good to reach out to new people. Join a community group or volunteer at a library or senior center. Combining physical activity with socializing may have even more benefits. Join a walking group or square dance club.
- Keep your mind sharp. Just like with muscle strength, when it comes to brain power it's "use it or lose it." Challenge yourself by doing puzzles, learning new card games, or taking up a new sport. Don't do the same things the same way with the same people. Seek out new experiences. Take a class in something you've always been curious about, whether it's pottery, philosophy, or welding. Join a book club or quilting group. When you walk or drive, take different routes.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Studies suggest that a diet that's good for your heart is also good for your brain. A heart-healthy diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt, and includes plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Choose colorful fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, spinach, and red peppers. Add foods high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna and salmon.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity helps increase blood flow to the brain and can improve mood. It also lowers the risk of diseases that can lead to dementia, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Pick an activity you enjoy and can stick with. Even better, find a partner to do it with you. Walking, swimming, biking and yoga are some good choices. Remember, always check with your doctor before you increase your physical activity.
- Protect your brain. Take measures to prevent head injuries, which can jar and damage the brain. This means wearing helmets for bike riding, skiing, and motorcycle riding. Also, wear seatbelts when driving.
Created on 11/02/2000
Updated on 05/25/2011
- Alzheimer's Association. Brain health.
- National Institute on Aging. Can Alzheimer's disease be prevented?
- Helpguide.org. How to reduce your risk and protect your brain.