Alzheimer’s Disease is a heartbreaking illness that affects millions of families in America alone. Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness of the brain that typically occurs in old age and is the most prevalent form of dementia. It is a fatal disease with no current cure, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. Though patients can live up to twenty years after their diagnosis, most typically die within 8.
Watching a loved one suffer with dementia is incredibly painful. I watched my grandfather die from dementia and my grandmother is slowly descending into dementia as well. I watched as my grandfather’s memories became hazy and eventually lost. When we spoke, he would forget common words and trail off mid-sentence.
When I visited him in the hospital shortly before he died he didn’t know who I was. He thought I was my aunt, or my mother. When I reminded him who I was he pretended to know, but I knew he didn’t. He didn’t know how many sons or daughters he had and he couldn’t remember most of their names. I just held his hand and listened to whatever he had to say. The last words we’d share meant the world, even if they didn’t make sense.
We still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s or dementia, but a lot of research has been done with the aim of discovering things that may prevent it. This research has had widely varied results, but doctors have agreed on a few things that seem to help prevent this awful disease:
1. Take care of your heart
Cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes all seem to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s. Get your blood work done on a regular basis to ensure your numbers are good. If they aren’t consult your physician to adjust your diet and possibly prescribe medication. Staying heart healthy may be key to lowering risk for Alzheimer’s.
2. Get your exercise
Exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, which helps keep your brain cells healthy. Since Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease, keeping those brain cells pumped up is key. Go for a walk or a run outside and get some fresh air. Or take an exercise class you really love. Or just dance it up with some friends. Just get your body moving in ways that make you happy.
3. Have regular girls’ days or girls’ nights out
Spending lots of time with your besties, especially those you’ve had for years, has been shown to help prevent Alzheimer’s. We create strong memories with our closest friends. As we age and our memories get fuzzier, being around friends with whom we have strong memories will help keep them more vivid.
Being around old friends can even help with memory retrieval as they tell stories we might have forgotten. So go out and create some awesome memories with some great friends, so you can recall them in your old age!
4. Use your brain as much as possible
Alzheimer’s occurs when the neural connections in your brain begin to deteriorate. A common way to think about the brain is like a network of wires. All the information we have ever learned and all the functions that our brain performs are connected like wires. When we learn something new, a new wire gets plugged in to the network. When Alzheimer’s attacks the brain, it starts breaking the connections between these wires. That’s why it becomes so hard to remember and focus, because the connections in the brain get broken.
Building more wires and stronger connections between the wires means they will be less likely to break in the future. Learning new information and processing information in new ways creates more wires and makes the connections between the wires stronger. Read a lot of books, build puzzles, play strategy games that require you to think outside the box and find solutions, play Scrabble, do crossword puzzles. All of these activities will strengthen the connections in the brain, especially those related to language, which are essential to memory retrieval.
A new study shows that being bilingual may help prevent Alzheimer’s or slow the symptoms, so sign up for that French or Spanish class you’ve been meaning to take!
5. Eat your fruits, veggies, and essential oils
I’m not one to recommend diets, especially diets that cut out foods or food groups. I believe it’s essential to give ourselves permission to eat whatever we want in amounts that make our bodies feel good. That being said, I’m always for adding more delicious and nutritious foods.
Our bodies are biological systems that need to be fed the proper nutrients to function and thrive. This is especially true of our brains. When we don’t have enough food that provides us with the proper vitamins, minerals, and essential oils, our brains suffer. Studies have shown that eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and fish oil, can help keep the brain at its healthiest. Don’t abandon all your favorite foods, simply find ways to add some more super nutritious foods in as well.
In essence, preventing Alzheimer’s comes down to living your best life and treating your body right today. Good food, daily movement, social connections, and daily learning are the things that make life worth living anyway. I know we’re all busy and preparing nutritious food, getting some movement, reading a book, and seeing your friends all take lots of time.
But it’s worth making the time to give yourself better health in the future.