First the disturbing news.
An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.
One in nine people 65 years or older has the disease, and that number is projected to escalate as the population ages.
Currently there is no cure or proven method of prevention.
And there is nothing we can to do to change two of the major risk factors - age and genetics.
But hope is on the horizon.
“Scientists are exploring prevention strategies to determine whether or not things like exercise, diet, and ‘brain games’ can help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. They are also investigating how certain medical conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, influence risk for cognitive impairment,” according to the National Institute on Aging.
Let’s look closer at the possibilities of these three preventive tools.
Helpful and Harmful Foods for a Healthy Brain
The list is not surprising. Foods believed to be good for our brain and cognitive functioning include vegetables, especially green leafy ones; salmon, tuna and other omega-3 foods; and foods found in the Mediterranean diet, such as fish, fruits and olive oil.
Problematic foods include sugar and trans fats, which are primarily found in packaged, fried and fast foods.
What we drink can also affect our brain, according to an article in helpguide.org. “While there appear to be brain benefits in consuming red wine in moderation, heavy alcohol consumption can dramatically raise the risk of Alzheimer’s and accelerate brain aging,” they write.
Instead, drink two to four cups of tea daily, especially white and oolong teas, which have been found to be particularly brain healthy. Recent research also shows that coffee may prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Gretchen Reynolds writes in The New York Times: “In a 2012 study of humans, researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of Miami tested the blood levels of caffeine in older adults with mild cognitive impairment, or the first glimmer of serious forgetfulness, a common precursor of Alzheimer’s disease, and then re-evaluated them two to four years later. Participants with little or no caffeine circulating in their bloodstreams were far more likely to have progressed to full-blown Alzheimer’s than those whose blood indicated they’d had about three cups’ worth of caffeine.”
Move Your Body to Help Your Brain
Studies have found that walking, working out in a gym and other physical activity can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
The National Institute on Aging explained one study:
“In a year-long study, 65 older people exercised daily, doing either an aerobic exercise program of walking for 40 minutes or a nonaerobic program of stretching and toning exercises. At the end of the trial, the walking group showed improved connectivity in the part of the brain engaged in daydreaming, envisioning the future, and recalling the past. The walking group also improved on executive function, the ability to plan and organize tasks such as cooking a meal.”
So, what is the best physical exercise to improve memory?
Heidi Godman, executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter, says most studies have looked at walking, but other forms of aerobic exercise, including dancing and raking leaves, may also be beneficial.
And what about duration?
“Standard recommendations advise half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or 150 minutes a week. If that seems daunting, start with a few minutes a day, and increase the amount you exercise by five or 10 minutes every week until you reach your goal,” Godman writes.
Make sure you wear a helmet when biking and take other safety measure to avoid falls as brain injury can increase your risk of dementia.
Play “Brain” Games to Reduce Dementia Risk
We’ve all heard that playing jigsaw and crossword puzzles, learning a new language or other skill can help keep us sharp and improve our memory. Studies are also finding that such intellectual activity can reduce the risk of dementia.
The National Institute on Aging cites one study. More than 700 older nuns, priests and religious brothers tracked the amount of time they spent reading, playing puzzle games and visiting museums. “After 4 years, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was 47 percent lower, on average, for those who did the activities most often than for those who did them least frequently,” researchers found.
A study showed that mental exercises and yoga, meditation and chanting helped improve mental performance.
There are multiple apps, as well as free “brain” games online. One of the most popular, Lumosity, has a fee after you have gotten a taste of playing the games. The company advertises that 70 million people from 182 countries are using the site to test memory, attention, speed and other cognitive functions. The games are fun, short, colorful and include easy-to-follow tutorials.
Kendal at Oberlin Encourages Brain Health
Your health is important to us at Kendal at Oberlin. It’s the reason we provide information about and encourage our residents to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We provide multiple lifelong learning opportunities, as well as the facilities, equipment and training to encourage residents to exercise. To learn more about how Kendal at Oberlin encourages our residents’ brain health, contact us.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.