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Ingleside at Rock Creek Blog

IRC Blog
Posted: Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Can you decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s? Here are 5 steps that might help

If you’re a caregiver, family member or friend of someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you’re likely very familiar with the toll that the cognitive illness can take. It’s also not uncommon if you find yourself considering whether you too might develop this disease or if there is anything you can do to decrease your risk.

Although research continues, who will develop Alzheimer’s and why is still not fully determined. If someone in your family has this disease, it’s understandable that you may worry if your chance of developing the same is higher. Having a family history may increase your risk but it’s also true that having a parent with Alzheimer’s doesn’t always mean you’ll develop it.

Genetics do increase the risk for those that develop the rare early-onset Alzheimer’s. Those with late-onset usually experience symptoms in their mid-60s and later. Age doesn’t cause the illness but it’s an important risk factor, as the number of those diagnosed doubles every 5 years after the age of 65, according to the National Institute on Aging.

But even without definitive predictive answers, most people aren’t helpless. It’s believed that Alzheimer’s develops from multiple factors, including age, genetics, environment, lifestyle and medical conditions.

The Alzheimer’s Association notes that although there are factors that we can’t control, such as aging or genetics, there are still things we can do to reduce our risk.

5 steps we can take

Here are a few of the action steps that we can take in 5 of the areas where we may be able to influence our risk factors:

1. The heart-head connection

Conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Some studies have shown 80% of those with Alzheimer’s also had cardiovascular disease.

Research has also discovered the occurrence of those who had developed plaques and tangles in the brain but didn’t develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s without there being evidence of vascular disease.

What you can do:

  • Avoid or stop smoking
  • Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Exercise your brain with skills that challenge your memory

2. Physical exercise

Regular exercise is considered an advantage when trying to lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. It’s believed that exercise might directly benefit brain cells because it increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain. Of course, exercise also is good for your cardiovascular health and reducing stress.

What you can do:

  • Try to exercise several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes each time
  • Add aerobic exercise to your routine to increase your heart rate
  • Everything counts so get moving. Some studies have found even cleaning or cooking can reduce risk

3. Heart-healthy diet

What is referred to as heart-healthy eating includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting sugar and saturated fats. Two diets that may help reduce risk are the DASH and Mediterranean diets which also emphasize fish, poultry, nuts, healthy fats and reduced eating of red meat. 

What you can do:

  • Limit fried or fast food to no more than once a week - and try for less
  • Eat salads and other green leafy vegetables at least six times a week
  • Reduce eating red meat to less than four times a week

 

4. Social connections and keeping mentally active

There have been several studies that indicate creating and maintaining strong social connections and challenging ourselves intellectually might lower our risk of developing a cognitive illness. Although it isn’t clear yet why these two life choices seem to function in this positive way, it’s thought it might be that they strengthen the connections between the nerve cells in the brain.

What you can do:

  • Maintain or create a healthy social network of friends
  • Be aware of any tendency to self-isolate and take steps to remain active
  • Find activities that challenge your brain and focus on concentration, such as puzzles, word games, learning a different language or musical instrument.

5. Head trauma

One area that does show a strong link between its occurrence and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s is head trauma, particularly when it involves a loss of consciousness. Whether it’s participating in sporting events or riding your bike, do everything possible to protect your head.

What you can do:

  • Wear a seat belt whenever in a car
  • Wear a helmet when participating in sports or any activity that could result in contact or a fall
  • Try to reduce chances of falling in your home by eliminating obstacles and working to maintain a strong core and balance

Nothing to lose but much to gain

Even though we may not yet know what causes Alzheimer’s, these 5 steps have no downside. There is evidence that taking care of our physical and mental health can lower the risk in many cases. And making these changes also are good for your heart, other conditions and can also have a positive impact on your brain health.

The goal is to live well. Doing what we can to make that happen empowers us to be an active participant in taking care of ourselves.

Ingleside at Rock Creek Memory Support Assisted Living

We take a whole-person approach in caring for our residents and their families. We understand the challenges that a cognitive illness can present and our focus is to provide support so that the individual can still live an engaged and empowered life.

Our highly trained team is educated on the latest and best practices of dementia care. From our fitness and well-being program to our flexible dining featuring chef inspired meals, we incorporate all the dimensions of wellness in our care.

Call (202) 905-0018 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.



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