10 Ways to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease

Posted by Jim Concotelli, MSW, Ph.D on November 7, 2016
November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Designated by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, fewer than 2 million Americans had Alzheimer’s at the time. Today that number has nearly tripled to 5.4 million. Most people are well aware of this progressive brain disorder as Alzheimer’s has directly affected approximately one in every two families.  
So what can you do, if anything, to prevent Alzheimer’s disease? Alzheimer's is not usually hereditary even though genes play some part in the disease. No one knows the exact cause of Alzheimer's, but lifestyle choices have a much greater impact than most people realize. 

Here are 10 ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease that you can do now:

  1. Stop smoking. Smoking is one of the most preventable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that smokers over the age of 65 have a nearly 80 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s than those who have never smoked. When you stop smoking, the brain benefits from improved circulation almost immediately.
  2. Stimulate your brain. Some neurological research suggests that mental exercise may reduce your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 70 percent. Spend at least 20 minutes, three times a week doing mental exercises include reading, writing, playing board games and doing crossword puzzles.
  3. Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Both high blood pressure and high total cholesterol are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Improving those numbers are good for your brain as well as your heart.
  4. Watch your weight. Extra pounds are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. A study found that people who were overweight in midlife were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s down the line. Those who were obese had three times the risk. Losing weight can go a long way to protecting your brain.
  5. Eat leafy greens. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the more the better. Think about eating a rainbow of colors when you choose your vegetables to maximize protective antioxidants and vitamins, including green leafy vegetables, red and blue berries, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and kale. 
  6. Get moving. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent. Even more, exercise can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems. Exercise protects against Alzheimer’s by stimulating the brain’s ability to maintain old connections as well as make new ones.
  7. Drink green tea. Regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging. Not as powerful as tea, coffee also confers brain benefits.
  8. Limit alcohol consumption. While some research shows brain benefits in consuming red wine in moderation, heavy alcohol consumption can dramatically raise the risk of Alzheimer’s and accelerate brain aging.
  9. Follow a Mediterranean diet. One study reported that people who ate a “Mediterranean diet” had a 28 percent lower risk of developing MCI and a 48 percent lower risk of progressing from MCI to Alzheimer’s disease. This Alzheimer’s prevention diet includes vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, olive oil, mild to moderate amounts of alcohol, and low amounts of saturated fats, dairy products, meat, and poultry.
  10. Make connections. Staying socially engaged has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in later life. Developing and maintaining a strong network of friends should be a priority for health reasons. Social interaction has been shown to reduce the risk of depression and improve overall life satisfaction.
Not only can taking these positive steps to get and stay healthy deter the development of Alzheimer’s, they can also lower the risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes. For more information and resources visit the Alzheimer's Association.