elderly man

As my great-grandfather’s mind gradually declined with the effects of Alzheimer’s, our family decided to move him out of his home and into an assisted-living center. I remember going to visit him there as a child and having my mother explain to him once again that she was his granddaughter and we were her children. Some days he was more responsive than others. Though I frequently heard stories of his exciting life and his kindness, I never knew it firsthand. During the years that he suffered from Alzheimer’s, he seemed to gradually move further and further away from us. We were mostly strangers to him, and as a granddaughter who had never really known him before the disease set in, he was a stranger to me.

Unfortunately, many families are all too familiar with the effects of Alzheimer’s since more than 47 million people live with Alzheimer’s and other dementias worldwide. As I’ve read about Alzheimer’s I’ve become increasingly interested in knowing how to prevent the disease, and in light of National Alzheimer’s Disease and Awareness Month, here are six ways I’ve found to help prevent it:

1. Balanced diet

Make vegetables, fruits, and whole grains staples in your diet. These foods are rich in the vitamins and minerals that protect the brain and reduce cognitive decline. Similarly, minimize your intake of saturated and trans fat, since these fats increase blood pressure and create dangerous plaques in the brain that can triple the risk of Alzheimer’s.

2. Exercise

A brisk walk, 40 minutes 3 times a week, can help reduce cognitive decline. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and body, which generates additional nourishment while also reducing the risk for dementia.

3. Mental stimulation

People with lower levels of education have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s in later life. In contrast, people with higher levels of education and mental stimulation have a sort of mental protection against Alzheimer’s, perhaps in part because their brain cells and connections are stronger. Cross-word puzzles, Sudoku, classes, plays, and even new mental game apps, can help the brain stay active and engaged.

4. Good sleep

Poor sleep is linked to higher levels of beta-amyloid, the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s. Studies suggest that improved sleep may help the brain clean up metabolic waste that accumulates while awake, and improved sleeping habits may help to clear out beta-amyloid from the brain.

5. Stress management

Findings show that people with stressful lives are around 2–3 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those with calmer lives. Avoiding stress is important for avoiding Alzheimer’s and maintaining your current and future mental health.

6. Active social life

Research shows that regular social interaction will help you to maintain brain vitality. Combine this with regular exercise and mental stimulation, and your mind should be in good shape. These three activities (physical, mental, social) are the best combination for preventing dementia. Friendships, sports, cultural activities, and other close relationships help keep you happy and keep your mind active.

 

Your mental health is worth protecting, and implementing these simple lifestyle changes can help keep your mind active now and reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s later on.