Prevention

Alzheimer’s disease affects people across economic, educational, social, racial, and gender lines. Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, but who and when it strikes is unpredictable. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, placing a lot of importance on prevention. Scientists have found evidence that some lifestyle changes can delay the onset or lower risk for the disease. To help keep your mind healthy, follow these evidence-based lifestyle tips.

Exercise. Exercise offers a host of benefits throughout the body, including in the brain. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo has conducted several studies showing exercise improves brain health and thinking skills. Any movement is beneficial, and each person should speak with their doctor about the type of exercise that is healthy for them. In general, healthy seniors should try to get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week. If you can’t fit in 30-minute bouts each day, attempt two 15-minute bouts instead. How do you know the intensity of the exercise you are doing? Try the talk test: During light physical activity, you can easily talk and sing. When you are engaged in moderate physical activity, you can talk, but you cannot sing. During vigorous levels of physical activity, you cannot say more than a few words without having to pause to catch your breath. Listen to Dr. Okonkwo discuss the protective benefits of exercise in maintain brain health and preventing Alzheimer's disease.

Diet. In 2015, Dr. Martha Clare Morris, Rush University, published the MIND diet for health brain aging, based on years of research into nutrition, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet emphasizes eating vegetables, nuts, fish, poultry, beans, whole grains, and berries, especially strawberries and blueberries. The diet also recommends limiting red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried foods. A study of nearly 1,000 people who followed the MIND diet found those who closely followed the diet reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 53 percent. People who loosely followed the diet still saw results, reducing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 35 percent. Listen to Dr. Martha Clare Morris discuss the MIND diet for healthy brain aging.

Sleep. Sleep is essential to healthy living. Dr. Barbara Bendlin, University of Wisconsin-Madison, published a study last year that found people who reported more sleepiness during the day and not feeling rested after a night of sleep showed more brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are still trying to figure out if poor sleep causes Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes, or if the brain changes cause sleep disturbance. But it is clear there is a connection. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, prioritize sleep, and start a relaxing evening routine that includes dim lights (but not smartphones, TVs, or other screens) and peaceful thoughts. Learn about sleep at the Alzheimer's disease connection.

Heart health. Scientists have long known the connection between a healthy heart and a healthy brain. When healthy blood flow to the brain suffers, so will your memory and thinking skills. A healthy diet, exercise, and quality sleep are all beneficial to heart health. If you smoke, quit. If your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, or Body Mass Index (BMI) are high, work with your doctor to bring these numbers down to healthy levels. Learn about the link between high blood pressure and dementia.

Learn more

UW Health offers additional information about strategies people can follow to reduce their risk or delay symptoms of dementia. Click here to read more.

Dr. William Shankle, medical director of the Shankle Clinic in Newport Beach, California, and neurologist specialized in the diagnosis, treatment and management of Alzheimer’s disease, discusses how management of lifestyle and other health conditions can reduce the rate of accumulation of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain on this episode of the "Dementia Matters" podcast.