While Alzheimer's disease (AD) may seem far off when you're young, taking steps early on can help diminish the likelihood of developing symptoms. If you identify personal risk factors, make simple lifestyle changes, and consider DNA testing, you can preserve your cognitive abilities for longer.
Sure, there are things you can't control, like your genes. But these 10 strategies can help you reduce your risk while you're still young.
» Concerned about your brain health? Discover 10 signs of early-onset Alzheimer's.
1. Challenge Your Brain
If you keep your brain active when you're older, you're less likely to get Alzheimer's. Doing things that force you to think and remember, like learning something new or playing word games, can help protect you against AD.
Individuals who stay mentally active, especially those who read a lot or have high levels of education, are also less likely to show Alzheimer's symptoms. This is true even if their family has a history of AD.
So, it's never too early or too late to start challenging your brain. The benefits build over time, making every puzzle solved or book read a step towards a healthier brain.
2. Avoid Excessive Red Meat Consumption
Eating a lot of red meat may make you more likely to develop Alzheimer's. Such a diet can raise homocysteine levels in your blood, which can harm your brain cells. This damage makes it harder for your brain to stop harmful proteins from clumping together.
Instead, I eat foods rich in polyphenols, antioxidants, and fish, along with unprocessed options.
3. Adopt a Mediterranean or MIND Diet
A Mediterranean diet—lots of nuts, oils, fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins—can help keep your brain safe from Alzheimer's. Other similar regimes, such as anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertension diets, can also be beneficial.
The MIND diet, a combination of the Mediterranean and anti-hypertensive diets, has also shown promising results in AD prevention. This diet bolsters brain and heart health. When your heart is healthy and your cardiovascular system functions optimally, your brain consistently gets fresh blood and nutrients.
» On a health kick? Here's what DNA tests can tell you about your nutrition.
4. Exercise Regularly
Doing regular exercises, especially activities like aerobics and high-intensity interval training, can help maintain brain health. These workouts increase the production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a molecule that helps brain cells grow and connect.
Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine can be highly beneficial. Those who work out regularly have larger brain volumes and fewer harmful build-ups called amyloid plaques. Even among those diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia, regular exercise has proven beneficial in maintaining cognitive abilities.
5. Get Enough Rest
Sleep is very important for AD prevention. When we sleep, our brains go through a cleaning process, clearing away a protein called amyloid beta. If this protein builds up, it can form plaques on the brain's neurons and cause Alzheimer's.
Insufficient sleep disrupts this cleaning process, leading to more rapid protein accumulation. That's why getting enough rest is so important for reducing Alzheimer's risk. Most healthy adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night.
6. Improve Your Sleep Quality
In my research, I've found that sleep disorders often appear years before an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Poor sleep quality—how deep and restful your cycle is—can cause AD. Even if you're in bed for nine hours, constantly waking up or tossing and turning, you're not getting quality sleep.
This creates a vicious cycle. To break this loop and improve your sleep patterns:
- Set up a regular bedtime schedule
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
- Make sure your room is comfortable and quiet
- Don't use screens before bed
- Consult with your doctor for appropriate treatments
7. Stay Socially Engaged
Social interactions can strengthen connections between nerve cells in the brain. Those with large friend networks are less likely to develop dementia when they're older. This is because we humans love being around other people.
Find activities that you can enjoy with others. If you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you're passionate about a cause, get involved by volunteering or participating in community events.
8. Schedule Cognitive Check-ups
Cognitive testing can provide valuable insights if you suspect you may develop Alzheimer's. These tests, designed to assess cognitive ability, don't diagnose AD but can tell if you need more detailed examinations, like PET scans and biopsies.
There are various types of cognitive tests. Some are short (three to 15 minutes) and can be self-administered or done without training. Others need a doctor to interpret the results. Since regular cognitive check-ups are unobtrusive, you can do them multiple times throughout your life.
While more intrusive brain health monitoring like PET scans should be limited, they become necessary when a cognitive check-up indicates potential impairment. Early AD detection, when its effects aren't yet crippling, is crucial to slow down or halt its progression.
9. Understand Your Genetic Risk Factors
Your genetic makeup can influence your chances of getting Alzheimer's disease. However, it's not usually just one gene; it's a combination of different genes that can increase your risk.
Genetic tests can spot some of these known risk factors for Alzheimer's. But understanding these results can be tricky, so it's best to consult experts.
Just because you have these risk factors in your genes doesn't mean you'll develop the disease. If Alzheimer's runs in your family, the best way to prepare and lower your risk is to live a healthy lifestyle and get routine brain health assessments.
» Curious about your genetic makeup? Uncover 10 reasons for getting a DNA test.
10. Embrace Early Detection
The earlier we can detect Alzheimer's, the better our chances of managing its effects. So, regular check-ups and staying alert to changes in memory or thinking skills are key. Recent clinical trials have shown that certain drugs can help slow down and even partially reverse cognitive decline in early-stage Alzheimer's patients.
Scientists are also working on finding easier ways to detect Alzheimer's. They're exploring simple blood tests that could provide early warnings by checking for certain markers in the blood linked to Alzheimer's.
Shaping the Future of Alzheimer's Treatment
Right now, we can't cure Alzheimer's, but research is making strides in developing promising therapies. These are most effective when used early, highlighting the importance of prevention and early detection.
The goal is to make Alzheimer's treatment similar to cancer care, integrating preventive screening, treatment, and monitoring. This approach could change how we manage Alzheimer's, offering hope for more effective control of the disease.
» Early prevention can help you plan. Here are our best DNA tests for health.