Can You Help Prevent Alzheimer's?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on September 28, 2017

Is there anything you can do to help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease?

As it turns out, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing this memory-robbing condition.

“What you can’t change is what you were born with,” said Christopher Wood, D.O., who specializes in geriatrics at Carilion Clinic Internal Medicine and the Center for Healthy Aging. “Women are at higher risk, and genetic risk factors include having a strong family history of Alzheimer’s or of certain types that are more debilitating."

"Other than that, there are three main areas to focus on,” Dr. Wood said.

First, your medical condition.

Do you have:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

“Making lifestyle modifications can help you keep your blood pressure and cholesterol down and your blood sugars at a reasonable level,” he said. “This will reduce your risk.”

Second is diet and exercise.

“A Mediterranean-type diet, high in olive oil, fish, fruit and vegetables is the healthiest way to eat,” he pointed out. “Try to avoid or limit processed foods.”

“Also, get in at least 20 minutes of exercise, five days a week. It may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by 65 percent. And don’t forget that smoking and drinking alcohol to excess will increase your risk.”

The third area is mental capacity.

“People with a higher education or cognitive reserve are less likely to get Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Wood noted.

Regardless of your education level, mental activity is key. Learning new things and taking on new tasks both help the mind grow and make new connections. Some retirees learn a musical instrument, for instance, while an 80-year-old patient of Dr. Wood recently took up computer programming for the first time.

“Highly functional taskssomething you have to think aboutare good for the brain,” Dr. Wood added. “Sometimes word puzzles and mental games can help, too. There are a lot of options out there.”

Finally, social stimulation helps keep the brain agile, along with in-depth conversations and healthy debates.

As the population ages, more cases of Alzheimer’s are expected, but science offers hope for new treatments.

“There’s a lot of research aimed at understanding what causes all types of dementia,” said Dr. Wood. “I’m very hopeful there will be better treatments in the next 10 to 20 years.”

I’m sure we would all agree.

Learn about the 10 early signs of Alzheimer's and how early detection can help you get the maximum benefit from available treatments.