Research on Prevention: Alzheimer’s DiseasePosted by Medicare Made Clear
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that attacks the brain. The connections between brain cells (and the brain cells themselves) break down and die. This process destroys memory and other important mental functions, such as reasoning and judgment. Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease affects a person’s bodily skills, and robs them of their independence. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s. And scientists are still working to understand its cause, or causes. But some research is beginning to point to what we can do to either prevent or lessen the risk of Alzheimer’s. In fact, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco said that over 50% of all Alzheimer’s cases might be prevented through certain lifestyle changes.
Let’s take a look at some of their recommendations.
1. Keep your blood sugar in control.
Specialists have known for some time about the link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. (See this 2011 report from the Alzheimer’s Association for one example.) But it appears that even just having higher-than-recommended blood sugar can put you at risk.
A study at Georgetown University from 2013 found that a shocking number of patients with early-onset Alzheimer’s also had elevated blood sugar levels. And though they were under a doctor’s care, many of those test subjects didn’t know that they had pre-diabetes. So get informed on any family history of diabetes, and talk with your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested.
2. Check your cholesterol and blood pressure.
Something else coming to light as scientists study Alzheimer’s is this guiding principle: If it’s good for your heart, it’s good for your brain, too. In a study of people with Down Syndrome reported in a 2013 issue of PLOS ONE, researchers found that high levels of cholesterol—particularly LDL (the “bad” cholesterol)—can cause disruptions to a particular chromosome that can lead to Alzheimer’s. And another 2013 study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology found that high blood pressure correlated strongly with the risk of developing Alzheimer’s as well.
Knowledge is power. Work with your doctor to make sure you get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly. If they’re too high, you can develop a plan together to lower them.
3. Review your diet.
Alzheimer’s research focusing on what we eat has the following recommendations:
- Eat more fish. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh claimed in 2011 that eating broiled or baked fish once a week reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Try some green tea and chocolate. A 2013 study from the Sbarro Health Research Organization found that nutrients in green tea extract and cocoa might help prevent plaque blockages in the brain.
- Cook with olive oil. Another 2013 study reported in ACS Chemical Neuroscience found that a substance in olive oil called “oleocanthal” boosts production of key proteins that can help protect the brain.
4. Keep your body active.
It appears that exercise can help protect the part of the brain that governs memory and spatial navigation—one of the first regions attacked by Alzheimer’s. A 2012 study published in the Archives of Neurology suggests that a daily walk or jog could lower the risk of Alzheimer’s—or lessen its impact once it has begun. And another study, conducted in the Netherlands in 2000, examined men who were genetically prone to Alzheimer’s. The inactive men in the group were four times more likely to develop the disease than those who worked out regularly.
Think it may too late to get active? Think again. Researchers from Rush University Medical Center reported on exercise and Alzheimer’s in the April 2012 issue of Neurology. It appears that even if you start exercising after turning 80, you could still lower your risk of getting Alzheimer’s. So talk to your doctor about getting started on an exercise program that’s right for you.
5. Keep your mind busy.
In 2003, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that mentally active seniors could reduce their risk of developing dementia by up to 75%, compared to people who don’t regularly exercise their brains. Activities included playing a musical instrument, chess or bridge. This conclusion has been backed up by other studies, including one published in the Archives of Neurology in 2012. It appears that activities such as playing games, reading and writing keep your brain’s connections working, which helps ward off dementia. The advice seems clear: if you don’t want to lose it, use it.
A note in closing: Please keep in mind that these findings are primarily from early-stage research. That means that they haven’t been through enough clinical trials to be accepted as clear health guidelines yet. Talk to your doctor before making any lifestyle changes, and to better understand your own risk of Alzheimer’s.
For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.
Alzheimer’s Association: Learn more about Alzheimer’s risk and prevention from this organization that provides information and support for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.
Medicare and Home Health Care: A booklet from Medicare.gov, the official website for Medicare.