Risks and Risk reducers of Alzheimer’s – Anyone who has seen the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease will be motivated to keep an eye on risk factors. Having risk factors does not mean you will get Alzheimer’s Disease, but having those factors can increase the chances of dealing with dementia in later life. Let’s face it, you’re not going to change all the risk factors in your life all at once. So you may want to tackle one section or even one paragraph in this article at a time. Making little but lasting changes tends to make us healthier anyway.
Risk Factors you can’t control
Aging and genetics are among the biggest risk factors. Some factors that cannot be controlled are being a woman, air pollution, and brain trauma. Not much we can do there aside from hanging up the boxing gloves.
Other risk factors, though, can be reduced through lifestyle changes. These include obesity, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, depression, excessive alcohol use, chronic inflammation, lack of exercise, poor diet, social isolation, hearing loss (which creates social isolation), and lack of cognitive engagement. (https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/how-can-i-prevent-dementia/risk-factors-dementia)
Age is the greatest risk factor. Alzheimer’s Disease, also known as Type 3 Diabetes, is more frequently diagnosed in older adults. The longer you live, the more at risk for the disease. After age 85, your risk increases considerably, though many people live into their 90s with no signs of dementia. Statistics say one in ten people over the age of 65 will be impacted by the disease, and one in three over the age of 85. (https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/causes-and-risk-factors) (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but 65 is young! Eighty-five doesn’t even seem old anymore.)
Genetics is another factor in being at risk for Alzheimer’s. Humans have about 20,000 genes that come in pairs, one set from each parent. Scientists have identified 70 genes that carry elements of dementia risk. (https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet#two) However, just because a person has a family history of Alzheimer’s does not mean they will get Alzheimer’s. It simply means they are at higher risk. Women are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they age.
If you’re a 65-year-old female with a family history of dementia, don’t panic. Research is showing exciting new evidence that supports lifestyle changes as a way to keep our brains working better longer. The next Alzheimer’s two sections will focus on food and daily habits that can make a tremendous difference in fighting the biggest challenges of growing older.
Risk Reducer for Alzheimer’s #1 – Diet
While we can’t control our age (or sometimes even act our age!) or the makeup of our DNA genetic strands, another factor in being at risk for Alzheimer’s is related to lifestyle. Everyone knows we need to eat healthier, but the latest research puts some “meat on the bones”—so to speak—of the argument for better food choices. I’ve included links to reliable sources should you choose to read further on any of these topics.
According to emerging research, a unifying factor in the development and progression of diabetes, heart conditions, Alzheimer’s, and obesity is the role of insulin. Insulin is a pancreatic hormone that regulates metabolism, maintains glucose levels, and promotes cell growth. Insulin resistance inhibits the normal workings of the process, causing synaptic breakdown in the brain and inflammation throughout the body. This insulin resistance leads to— guess what—diabetes, heart conditions, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and obesity. (The Role of Insulin – S. Ferreira, L. S., Fernandes, C. S., N. Vieira, M. N., & De Felice, F. G. (2017). Insulin Resistance in Alzheimer’s Disease. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00830)
Let’s look at a few factors that can reduce insulin resistance and make the body work more efficiently:
The question of food is highly controversial. Some research supports a high-healthy-fat diet and a low amount of carbohydrates. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35718870/) Other research says a high-carb diet tends to create healthier insulin function so long as the carbs are low GI foods (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-glycemic-diet#foods-to-eat) or resistance starches like oats, barley, brown rice, beans, peas, and raw potatoes. (Sorry, but greasy fried potatoes didn’t make anyone’s list of disease-fighting foods.) (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-foods-high-in-resistant-starch#The-bottom-line) Diets that show a reduction of disease and dementia risk generally include lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish but very little meat, sweets, and dairy foods. (https://alzheimer.ca/sites/default/files/documents/Risk-factors_Alzheimer-Society-Canada.pdf)
Nearly all research shows a reduction in sugar intake lowers the risks of diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. You have to watch out for sugar. The natural kind appears in pasta, bread, potatoes, and many fruits. Artificial sweeteners are still in the “Is it good or bad?” clinical research category. Sucrose, an exceptionally sweet-tasting sugar has long-term negative effects on insulin resistance. It also has been shown to change DNA, decrease good gut bacteria, and increase inflammation. (https://usrtk.org/sweeteners/sucralose-emerging-science-reveals-health-risks/)
High-fat diets (especially high trans-fat and saturated fats) contribute to insulin resistance. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114) Eliminating or cutting back on these foods can reduce joint pain and inflammation, lower blood pressure, and decrease depression. Don’t shoot the messenger, but these are foods you should probably give only to your meanest neighbors – butter, baked goods, red meat, whole milk, heavy creams, most fried foods, and ice cream. I weep even as I write this. (https://www.webmd.com/diet/foods-high-in-saturated-fat)
You may be thinking, can’t I just take a pill to make it all better? A few dietary supplements have shown positive results in clinical studies on fighting insulin resistance and reducing the risks of dementia. Omega 3 fatty acids/fish oils are arriving with mixed findings in the fight against diseases. However, most culture groups that have a longer life span, such as Asian and Mediterranean regions, eat lots of fish. It’s hard to argue with their numbers.
Studies of increased doses of Vitamin E provided positive results for laboratory rodents. Scientists are still looking for positive results for humans. Rats!
Curcumin and turmeric are known to lower inflammation which is a risk factor in healthy brain function. B Vitamins are also shown to slow cognitive decline.
Ginko Biloba was once thought to slow cognitive decline. However, large group studies of several thousand people found no impact from taking it. Spend your money on the fish oils instead. (https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-dietary-supplements-for-cognitive-function-dementia-and-alzheimers-disease)
It’s a lot to take in. Don’t throw out all your dairy, butter, or the side of beef in your deep freeze just yet. But consider changing one thing at a time. Work to weed out the unhealthy sugar substitutes in your diet. Take smaller portions of the foods that are working against your good health until you are ready to eliminate them permanently.
Risk Reducer for Alzheimer’s #2 – Lifestyle choices
There are more ways to reduce the risks of mental decline as we get older.
According to the experts, we need to manage stress – Who are they kidding? To effectively manage stress and reduce its presence in life, we would need to lock ourselves in a closet with a lifetime supply of chocolate. Stress happens. Stress will not go away even after we retire, move away from the crazy people, or win the battles for better health.
The best we can do is manage our responses to stress. Everyone has a different way to cope with the stresses of life – hiding, distracting, focusing, avoiding, or comforting. (If you reply to this article email and share your stress-handling techniques, I’ll add them to a list to include in a future newsletter and article on the subject.)
Sleep – Ten years ago, scientists discovered an amazing fluid system in the brain that clears away clutter. This system is called the glymphatic system and works most efficiently while we sleep. Part of the debris that gets removed includes the beta-amyloid proteins that build up to create barriers in our mental abilities, the building blocks of Alzheimer’s Disease. (https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/new-brain-cleaning-system-discovered) Regular, restful sleep, unless done while driving or having an important conversation with your spouse, can not only reduce stress but clear your brain of obstacles to good memory functioning.
Exercise – Everyone knows that a healthy heart and arteries keep blood flowing to and from the brain. It only makes sense. Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure through diet and exercise, medications if necessary, will keep the heart and brain functioning better as we grow older.
Researchers and doctors recommend 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise five days a week. If that’s too much, try to exercise in fifteen-minute sessions twice a day. Moderate exercise means you can talk while working out but not sing along to your favorite workout songs. (The people at my gym are thankful for this.) Researchers are working to determine the best kinds of exercise for reducing mental decline. At present, walking seems to be the best exercise for most older people, and it often comes with great scenery. (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/physical-exercise#:~:text=Combining%20the%20results%20of%2011,reduced%20by%2045%20per%20cent.)
Cognitive engagement – Congratulations —if you’ve read this far, you’re using your brain to build a complex system of neural connectors. The more information connections you make, the more interactions you have with words, facts, or memories, the more likely you will be able to keep them later in life. Our brains create pathways via different routes, so if one roadway is blocked, we have access through another route. Learning the same information in multiple ways can prevent losing that information years down the road.
Believe it or not – and I hate to say this in the presence of teenagers – spending time on the internet reduces risk factors for dementia by about half! (https://agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.18394) Internet use includes social interaction, and it helps the brain focus attention in many places at once. This may cause us to be scattered and time wasters, but it does create stronger neural connections in the brain.
If you’d rather not become a web surfer, pick up a crossword puzzle book or sudoku, put together a jigsaw puzzle, or play a strategy-based computer game or card game. Some websites like Lumosity offer daily brain-strengthening activities and track your progress. Socialize with friends. Take a different route when driving. Identify 25 kinds of native birds. Learn a new hobby. Take up a new instrument. Read a book! Write a book. Read a lengthy article. Highlight information in the article, send it out to eight friends, then have conversations about the article. (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/how-reduce-your-risk-alzheimers-and-other-dementias) and (https://www.adrc.wisc.edu/prevention)
For more information on Alzheimer’s Disease: https://debrichmond.com/alzheimers-disease-information/