According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. overall, and the fifth leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older. Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2010, while deaths from other major diseases, including heart disease, decreased.
Dr. Lorne S. Label, founder and director of the Brain Longevity Center in Thousand Oaks, CA and a board-certified neurologist, writes that worldwide, there are now an estimated 24 million people living with some form of dementia, and that without a major medical breakthrough, this number could jump to as many as 84 million who have age-related memory loss by the year 2040. Indeed, Dr. Lorne goes so far as to say that dementia is a “massive issue, possibly a catastrophe in the making.”
Until science can tell us more, right now our greatest defense against all types of dementia is prevention. Though we can’t change two of the major risk factors—age and genetics—there are many others that are in our control. In fact, a team of British and Frensh researchers found that eliminating depression and diabetes, prolonging education, and improving general intake of fruits and vegetables, would reduce the number of cases of dementia by nearly 40 percent.
To keep more of your marbles as you age, try these tips!
Basic Health Tips for Preserving Your Brain
Part of protecting your brain health involves protecting your overall health, particularly your cardiovascular health. According to research published in Circulation in 2010, people with the highest cardiac output for their body size, meaning those with the greatest blood flow from their heart, tended to have more brain volume, which generally indicates a healthier brain. So anything that will help your heart—including regular exercise and a healthy diet—will likely help your brain as well.
The Alzheimer’s Association has also put out the “basics” of a brain-healthy lifestyle, which includes:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Mental stimulation
- Quality sleep
- Stress management
- An active social life
Though the first two are pretty self-explanatory, the others may need a few more details. Mental stimulation, for example, includes practicing memorization, learning something new, playing strategy games, and regularly varying your habits. In other words, anything that requires your brain to create new connections is protective against dementia.
Quality sleep is defined as 7-8 hours every night, and stress management includes daily relaxation activities like meditation, yoga, or a walk in the park. Finally, an active social life may include volunteering, belonging to a club or social group, taking group classes, making a weekly date with friends, and the like.
Though these basic steps, particularly if practiced regularly, will go a long way toward keeping your brain sharp as you age, there are other things you can do as well.
Certain foods have a reputation for promoting brain health. Here are seven of them:
- Dark chocolate: Researchers in Norway found that the flavonoids in cocoa increased blood flow to the brain, which could be protective against dementia and stroke.
- Red wine: Though excessive alcohol intake can harm the brain, moderate intake of red wine, which has flavonoids similar to chocolate, has also shown to have a protective effect on cognitive function.
- Oysters: Research has found that elderly adults with low vitamin B12 levels had more than four times the risk of Alzheimer’s. Oysters, clams, mussels, fish, shrimp, and scallops are all rich in this nutrient.
- Asparagus: In addition to vitamin B12, the brain needs another B vitamin—folate. A 2008 study found that those deficient in this vitamin were 3.5 times more likely to develop dementia. Other sources include citrus fruits, beans, broccoli, beets, and leafy green vegetables.
- Salmon: Tufts University researchers found that those who consumed an average of three servings of oily fish a week, which are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, had almost a 50 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Other sources include sardines, anchovies, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
- Turmeric: A key compound in this spice, called “curcumin,” was found to be effective in studies at removing plaques from the brain. Countries that regularly eat this spice also have lower rates of dementia.
- Apples: Studies from Cornell University found that foods with quercetin, like apples, help protect the brain from dementia-related damage. Red onions are another good source.
Brain games may also help reduce your risk of dementia. According to a 2012 study, puzzles, handicrafts, and life skills training helped reduce the risk and slow down the progress of dementia among the elderly. Just keep in mind that science also shows that exercise is even more effective than mind games for brain health, so if you have to choose between the two, take a walk instead!
What qualifies as a brain-charging activity? Here are a few:
- Puzzles, including word games, memory games, math problem puzzles, crossword puzzles, and search-and-find games.
- Classes that force you to think, rationalize, and apply logic. Any class that teaches you something completely new, taking you out of your “comfort zone,” qualifies.
- Reading. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, seniors who read, played instruments, and played board games were less likely to suffer dementia.
- Playing an instrument. In addition to the study mentioned above, a 5-year study found that the greater number of stimulating activities, including playing music, that the participants engaged in, the longer rapid memory loss was delayed.
- Exploring something new. Studies have found that an enriched environment that includes the opportunity to explore new things reduces the plaques in the brain that are linked with dementia.
- Education. In addition to community classes, formal education is linked with a lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s. A long-running Finnish study found that compared to people with five or less years of education, those with six to eight years had a 40 percent lower risk of developing dementia, and those with nine or more years had an 80 percent lower risk.
- A second language. An analysis of 184 people with dementia found that those who spoke more than one language suffered dementia symptoms later in life than those who spoke only one language.
What do you do to protect your brain health? Please share with our readers.
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“Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures,” Alzheimer’s Association, 2013, http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp#quickFacts.
Dr. Lorne Label, “Dementia Facts and Statistics,” Disabled World, January 5, 2009, http://www.disabled-world.com/health/aging/dementia/statistics.php.
Serena Gordon, “Heart Health Can Help Predict Brain Health: Study, U.S. News and World Report, August 2, 2010, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/heart/articles/2010/08/02/heart-health-can-help-predict-brain-health-study.
“Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention,” Alzheimer’s Association, http://www.helpguide.org/elder/alzheimers_prevention_slowing_down_treatment.htm.
“9 Brain Foods that Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease,” The Conscious Life, http://theconsciouslife.com/brain-foods-prevent-dementia-alzheimers-disease.htm.
Denis Campbell, “Dementia study finds almost 40% of cases could be avoided,” The Guardian, August 5, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/06/how-to-avoid-dementia-study.
BioMed Central (2012, March 26). Use it or lose it: Mind games help healthy older people too. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/03/120327094317.htm.
Verghese J et al. Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. New England Journal of Medicine. June 19, 2003. 348(25): 2508-2516.
Hall, C.B. et al. 2009. Cognitive activities delay onset of memory decline in persons who develop dementia. Neurology, 73, 356-361.
Lazarov, O.et al. 2005. Environmental Enrichment Reduces A? Levels and Amyloid Deposition in Transgenic Mice. Cell, 120(5), 701-713.
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Bialystok, E., Craik, F.I.M. & Freedman, M. 2007. Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia, 45 (2), 459-464./li>
“Preventing Dementia: Mental Stimulation,” Mempowered, http://www.memory-key.com/problems/dementia/prevention/mental-stimulation.