ByDr. Brandon Colby MD, a physician-expert in the fields of Genomics and Personalized Preventive Medicine.
There’s no doubt that modern medicine has made tremendous advancements over the past century. We went from being unable to even understand the cause of many diseases to learning exactly what causes them, and being able to identify ways to prevent them.
Unfortunately, we still don’t have a bullet-proof method to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder around the world, and although science still hasn’t found a cure or prevention methods that are a hundred percent effective, that doesn’t mean that we are powerless against Alzheimer’s.
In fact, research and clinical trials have identified many risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. And thankfully, they have also determined that there are certain methods and lifestyle changes we can make to help lower our risk of Alzheimer’s.
Yes, it is possible to protect yourself and your loved ones against Alzheimer’s disease!
In reality, there’s no fail-safe way to ensure that you’ll never get Alzheimer’s.
Genetic risk factors — such as having an APOE4 allele, instead of APOE2 or even APOE3 — can lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, but that doesn’t mean that everyone with a risk factor automatically develops Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, many people do develop Alzheimer’s regardless of which variant of the APOE gene they inherit, so where’s the difference?
Certain strategies can be used to significantly lower your risk of Alzheimer’s; they could also delay the onset of symptoms and slow progression in patients who do get this disease.1
Alzheimer’s disease typically begins in older adults after the age of 65, and your risk increases with your age. But that doesn’t mean that you have to wait until midlife and can’t start working on how to prevent Alzheimer’s from a younger age. In fact, implementing these strategies as early as possible can increase their effectiveness.
Read on to learn more about preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Certain activities help prevent Alzheimer’s by increasing your cognitive reserve. The term “cognitive reserve” refers to how well your brain is able to create a reserve that will protect its functions against future damage and cognitive decline.2
Well… that sounds like it must be complicated, right? Not really! Your cognitive reserve can be increased through different, simple activities.
Brain games or exercises are activities that provide mental stimulation and increase your neuroplasticity, thus preserving your brain health.
Brain training can’t prevent Alzheimer’s itself, since it doesn’t affect the formation of beta-amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles in our brains. However, they can significantly improve our cognition, and delay the onset of symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. These activities also lower your risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is another risk factor of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Brain games can improve cognitive skills such as:
- Information processing
Brain exercises include:
- Card games
- Crossword puzzles
- Video games
- Memory games
- Board games
- Playing an instrument
Engaging in one of these activities, even if it’s just for one hour several times a week, is a great way to build your cognitive reserve. These games also help relieve stress and they can provide an opportunity for social interaction; both of these factors can also help prevent memory loss and cognitive decline.3
Learning a new language is a great workout for your brain. As you learn new words and associate them with words in your first language, your brain will be working hard to develop new synapses, which increases your cognitive reserve.
Constantly switching between two languages also provides continuous activity for your brain, which even increases your brain matter.4 Bilingual individuals have been shown to show symptoms of early Alzheimer’s approximately 4-5 years later than people who only speak one language.5
It’s never too late to learn something new. To keep your brain healthy, it’s important to have exposure to different topics on a regular basis.6 And what better way to do this than by taking a class?
Studies have found an inverse correlation between your risk of Alzheimer’s and the length of your education. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to pursue a new academic degree — although that’s also an option. You can simply enroll in a fun course on a topic that you wish to learn more about, even if it’s online or weekends-only.
Certain medications have been found to prevent the pathophysiologic processes that can lead to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease — however, you should always keep in mind that taking medication may not be enough if you don’t follow other preventive strategies and lead a healthy lifestyle.
Research suggests that NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s when taken daily for longer than 2 years. Other studies suggest that the longer NSAIDs are used, the lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease becomes.7
These medications can reduce inflammation levels throughout the body, including the brain. Evidence also points to a reduction in the formation of amyloid plaques when NSAIDs are taken regularly, even though the exact mechanism for this hasn’t been established.
A specialist could recommend taking NSAIDs if you have a high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s; however, these medications can also lead to stomach ulcers and blood clotting disorders, so you should always ask your doctor for guidance.
Statins are another commonly used medication, and they work by lowering cholesterol levels. In addition to helping manage heart disease, statins have also been found to slow down the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain.8
Different statins are commercially available, but the most effective at Alzheimer’s prevention seem to be simvastatin and lovastatin.
Several wellness strategies and lifestyle choices can help keep you healthy and lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These strategies are relatively simple, yet very important to your future health.
Keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy is a great way to keep your brain healthy as well. Cardiovascular disease is associated with a higher risk of different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia,
And we all know that one of the main ways to maintain cardiovascular health is through exercise. Additionally, physical activity has been shown to prevent the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain.
Physical exercise benefits your body and mind in many different ways. Some of the most important benefits of an active lifestyle include:
- Decreasing stress levels
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Enhancing sleep quality
- Managing high blood pressure
Cardiologists recommend performing at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week.9 Strength training also has many benefits, such as increasing your muscle mass and your bone density — two important factors to maintain our well-being as we get older.10
There are other wellness strategies that can keep your brain healthy, such as sleeping well and managing your stress levels.
A healthy diet is one of the simplest, yet most effective natural ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, healthy eating can also help prevent many other diseases, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and obesity.
The Mediterranean diet is a great option to prevent heart disease and dementia versus a standard Western diet.11 The Mediterranean diet includes:
- Large amounts of: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, fish, olive oil, herbs, and nuts.
- Moderate amounts of: poultry, dairy, eggs, and red wine.
- Small or no amounts of: processed foods, sugar, and red meat.
The MIND diet combines the Mediterranean diet with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, and it has also been found to benefit brain health.12 The MIND diet includes:
- Leafy greens
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
Neurology studies have shown that people who experience social isolation have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, it has been discovered that seniors who lead lonely lives may have elevated amyloid levels.13 Social isolation could also be a symptom of untreated depression, which is another risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease.
Social interaction can protect your brain health, delay the onset of dementia, and even rescue memory in patients who have already developed Alzheimer’s.
There are many activities that can help you stay socially engaged, from making sure you make time to call your loved ones regularly, to joining a club or group in your area, or even volunteering with an organization you like.
Genetic testing for Alzheimer’s disease by itself won’t really do anything to prevent Alzheimer’s, of course. However, determining your genetic risk of Alzheimer’s can help guide your lifestyle choices from an early age. Genetic risk factors can account for up to 70 percent of your total risk of Alzheimer’s.
Genetic testing can also determine which preventive measures work best for you. For example, research has found that people who have the APOE4 variant may not benefit from taking omega-3 fatty acids supplements, which are commonly recommended to prevent cardiovascular disease. A DNA test can identify this variant to ensure that you don’t rely on strategies that may not work for you.
Tests that use whole genome sequencing (WGS) can go even further by informing you of your risk for many other diseases. At Sequencing.com, we offer advanced DNA tests, including whole genome sequencing, at unbeatable prices.
Visit our Education Center now to learn more about different health and genomics topics.
Dr. Brandon Colby MD is a US physician specializing in the personalized prevention of disease through the use of genomic technologies. He’s an expert in genetic testing, genetic analysis, and precision medicine. Dr. Colby is also the Founder of Sequencing.com and the author of Outsmart Your Genes.
Dr. Colby holds an MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and a degree in Genetics with Honors from the University of Michigan. He is an Affiliate Specialist of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG), an Associate of the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM), and a member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC).
- Prevention - Alzheimer’s disease. NHS. Retrieved 2021 Mar 4.↩
- Colby, MD, B. (2010). Outsmart Your Genes: How Understanding Your DNA Will Empower You to Protect Yourself Against Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, Obesity, and Many Other Conditions. (1st ed.).↩
- Klimova B, Valis M, Kuca K. Bilingualism as a strategy to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Clin Interv Aging. 2017;12:1731-1737. Published 2017 Oct 19.↩
- Can learning language help prevent dementia? (2019, May 21). Glasgow Memory Clinic. Retrieved 2021 Mar 4.↩
- IBUPROFEN LINKED TO REDUCED RISK OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. (2008, May 05). American Academy of Neurology. Retrieved 2021 Mar 4.↩
- Does a statin prevent dementia? (2014, September). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved 2021 Mar 3.↩
- Laskowski, M.D., E. R. (2019, April 27). How much should the average adult exercise every day? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2021 Mar 5.↩
- What can you do to avoid Alzheimer’s disease? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved March 04, 2021.↩
- Mediterranean diet may slow development of Alzheimer’s disease. (2018, May 15). NIH. Retrieved 2021 Mar 5.↩
- Improve brain health with the MIND diet. (2019, July 31). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2021 Mar 5.↩
- Hsiao YH, Chang CH, Gean PW. Impact of social relationships on Alzheimer’s memory impairment: mechanistic studies. J Biomed Sci. 2018;25(1):3. Published 2018 Jan 11.↩