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How to Prevent Alzheimer's: The Most Effective Ways to Avoid this Rapidly Increasing Disease

Alzheimer's disease already affects 4.5 million Americans--more than twice the number that were affected in 1980--but that number is expected to grow significantly. By the year 2050, it's estimated that 11.3 million to 16 million Americans may develop the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Alzheimer's disease affects the brain, progressively destroying a person's ability to:

  • Learn and reason
  • Make judgments
  • Carry out daily activities

Walking and other exercise can improve your mental ability even as you get older.

It may also change the person's personality and result in anxiety, suspiciousness, delusions and hallucinations. There is currently no known cure. The causes are also unknown, but one major risk factor is age.

The majority of people with Alzheimer's are over the age of 65 -- an age after which the changes of developing the disease double every five years. But, of course, just because you age or get older does not mean that you will develop Alzheimer's, and there are, in fact, known methods to prevent this epidemic disease.

Eat healthy. Your best defense against this disease appears to be in the food you eat. A recent study published in Alzheimer's and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association found that people who eat the recommended amount of folate have a much lower risk of developing the disease.

Folates are B-vitamins found in leafy green vegetables, oranges, legumes and bananas.

But, "Although folates appear to be more beneficial than other nutrients, the primary message should be that overall healthy diets seem to have an impact on limiting Alzheimer's disease risk," said Maria Corrada of the University of California Irvine's Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, who co-led the study. Antioxidant-rich foods are also extremely important.

Lead a healthy lifestyle. Things like avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol, exercising and staying socially active all are linked to a healthy brain, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

"The major way we've reduced the death rate from heart disease is through lifestyle changes: eating better, exercising more, smoking less," said David A. Bennett of Rush University in Chicago. "It would require a lot of people to change the way they live, but there's no reason to think we can't have the same impact on Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia."

To get a complete idea of the most risky lifestyle choices when it comes to your health and longevity, check out The Six Worst Lifestyle Choices You Could Make.

Playing chess and other mind-stimulating games helps keep your brain healthy.

Exercise your body. As mentioned above, regular exercise is important for your brain health. "Walking 45 minutes three times a week for six months significantly improved mental ability of older adults with no dementia; a randomly selected control group that did stretching and toning had no change," says Arthur Kramer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois.

Exercise your mind. "Just keeping busy seems to tune the brain," says neuropsychologist Yaakov Stern of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In a seven-year study of 1,800 older adults, Stern found that the more "leisure pursuits" a person had, the lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's. Leisure pursuits included:

  • Visiting friends
  • Playing cards
  • Going to the movies

The key is to keep your brain engaged as you age. Try crossword puzzles, games like chess and checkers, reading, attending a lecture, volunteering or taking a class that interests you.

Avoid head injuries. Research has uncovered a strong link between serious head injury and Alzheimer's. You can reduce your risk of head injury by always wearing a seat belt while driving, wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or bicycle and making sure to remove tripping hazards around your home.

Try to relax and stay positive. According to the Center for Healthy Minds, elderly people who experience a lot of psychological distress (worrying, feeling insecure or nervous) are more likely to show signs of mental decline. In fact, one study found that people prone to high levels of distress were twice as likely to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease after five years than those who were prone to low levels of distress.

Further, adults who suffer from depression have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's than those who show few or no depressive symptoms.

The Bottom Line

"It's hard to prove a lot of these things, but I'm convinced there's enough evidence that there is a cause-and-effect relationship," said Gary Small of the University of California at Los Angeles, who developed a "memory prescription" for Alzheimer's that includes a healthy diet, daily exercise and relaxation and memory exercises.

Indeed, clinical studies have yet to be performed to test many methods of Alzheimer's prevention, but when the techniques are employed in a population, benefits seem to be found.

And, as Small points out, there's nothing to lose, "We may not have conclusive proof. But the evidence is strong. And these are all healthy choices for other reasons."

Recommended Reading

The World's 7 Most Potent Disease-Fighting Spices

If You Want to Be More Attractive & Optimize Your Weight, New Research Says Proper Sleep is Essential


The Alzheimer's Association

USA Today August 17, 2005

Washington Post August 14, 2005

Health Orbit August 12, 2005

Center for Healthy Minds

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