Helen caring for her fatherHelen was exhausted. Her ageing father had again been up and around the house most of the night ‘looking for something’ and then not being able to find his bedroom again. His Alzheimer’s symptoms was worsening and she knew the day was coming when he would need to go into care. She dreaded that day. And she also dreaded the thought that someday she might end up like this.

‘I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s,’ she told Dr. Lamont. ‘Just give me a list of what I need to do and I’ll do it!”

But it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Experts all of the world are researching this disease which is affecting people from 45 upwards at an exponential rate. While there are lots of theories and remedies promoted, the only factors shown to have significant preventative correlation are physical activity, mental challenges to the brain, a healthy diet and regular sleep.

 ‘Physical exercise and good vascular health have the most scientific evidence as possible Alzheimer’s fighters – and they come with the added perk of lowering the risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease. A diet that’s lower in fats and higher in vegetables seems to be preferable, but little is known about an Alzheimer’s link to specific foods or whether there is one.’ These are cautious words from Dr. Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, but he goes on to say, ‘some basic health habits are associated with lower risk’.

So there ARE important steps you can take to protect yourself against Alzheimer’s. We are all responsible for doing what we can – for our own sake and for our family members.

Here is Helen’s list from Dr. Lamont:

  1. Stay active. Physical exercise into old age can reduce the risk of dementia by 50%.
  2. Your brain needs to have work to do. Without being challenged, the all-important connections in your brain (the dendrites) decline, causing a decrease in your brain mass. The more you challenge your brain with tasks that are hard for you to do, the more your brain connections grow. This increased brain mass is your protection against Alzheimer’s. Reading, talking, playing an instrument, dancing, crosswords, internet searches are all helpful.
  3. Mental Fitness. Going beyond the everyday brain challenges, make an effort to engage in mental arithmetic, remembering shopping lists, reading parts of the paper upside down, word games, computer games and the like. These force your brain to work in unusual ways and help build the vital brain mass you need.
  4. Focus on food for a healthy brain. The more brightly coloured your fruit and vegetables are, the better they are likely to be for you. Keep within a healthy weight and buy only items you know will help you support the growth of brain connections. Make sure Omega-3 is in your diet (fish such as salmon provide an excellent source). Not only will your risk of dementia decrease, your cholesterol levels will be safe and  your whole body will be healthier as a result of a brain-healthy diet.
  5. Reduce alcohol intake. A glass or two of wine a few days a week can be beneficial for some people; what is known, though, is that an excessive alcohol intake will cause the loss of brain cells and connections. This risk factor for Alzheimer’s can be avoided.
  6. Reduce high blood pressure. Any cardiovascular difficulties that restrict blood flow to the brain will increase the risk of dementia. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions to keep blood pressure at safe levels.
  7. Look out for Diabetes and stress. Both conditions have been found to increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s as well as heart attacks and strokes. Seek medical advice if you are suffering from Diabetes or have been exposed to long periods of stress.
  8. Look after your sight and hearing. Loss of sight and hearing have increased the risks of Alzheimer’s, possibly because of the reduced opportunities for brain stimulation. Don’t ignore the symptoms of declining eyesight or hearing.
  9. Maintain a positive attitude. A happy outlook on life can reduce the risk of depression and memory loss. Do you remember Pollyanna’s ‘glad game’? She learned from her father to find something optimistic in every situation, no matter how gloomy it seemed on the surface. This positive outlook on life is a wonderful protection.
  10. Avoid pollutants wherever possible.  Pesticides, poisonous heavy metals or dye solvents have been found to increase the risk of memory loss. Keep your living environment as healthy and free of pollutants as possible. Smoking of course is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s so please don’t!
  11. Ensure you have quality sleep each night. Your body (and brain) rejuvenates during sleep. Recent studies at the University of California, San Francisco and California Medical Center demonstrated that eople who suffer from sleep apnea are at a high risk of developing memory problems and dementia as they get older.
  12. Enjoy and active social life. Engaging in lively conversations, interacting with others and having purposeful days are all important safeguards against memory loss.

This article is brought to you by Gillian Eadie. For further reading, see also Is it Alzheimer’s? to see the main symptoms, Let Me Sleep on That for more information about ways to improve your sleep. Beat Alzheimer’s With Brain Training will give you the latest research results about this important topic. All these and much more from the Memory Foundation website.