World Alzheimer's Day: Can we reduce the risks of dementia?
Scientists have not yet figured what conclusively causes Alzheimer’s but major breakthroughs are close. There is growing evidence of ways to lower the risks of suffering from this brain disorder
Scientists have still not figured what conclusively causes Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia that progressively affects your memory and thinking skills. However, so far, experts have suggested that it can be due to a combination of factors tied to genes, environment, and lifestyle.
The science behind lowering the risks of Alzheimer is quickly evolving, and major breakthroughs are within reach. For example, there is growing evidence that people who adopt healthy lifestyle habits, like regular exercise and blood pressure management, can lower their risk of dementia. There seems to be growing scientific evidence that healthy behaviors, which have been shown to prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, may also reduce cognitive decline.
Researchers seem to offer some strategies to control the disease and are learning more what may or may not work. Here's a few ways suggested by scientists that may help to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's:
A key intervention that seems to play a role in delaying Alzheimer’s, says scientists, is increased physical activity. According to the US National Institute of Ageing, some studies have shown that people who exercise have a lower risk of cognitive decline than those who don’t.
Exercise has also been linked to fewer Alzheimer’s plagues and tangles in the brain and people perform better in some cognitive tests. Doctors recommend moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking.
The recommendation is 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercises, three to four days per week.
However, while clinical trials suggest that exercise may help delay or slow age-related cognitive decline, there is not enough evidence to conclude that it can prevent or slow mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's dementia.
Blood pressure management
Blood pressure management can also lower the risk of dementia. According to a recent article in 'Harvard Health', studies have shown a link between keeping blood pressure below 120/80 millimeters of mercury and a lower risk of developing dementia. And that blood pressure drugs can trigger certain receptors in the brain that offer protection against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Basically, this is how it works: high blood pressure can damage small blood vessels in the brain, affecting parts of the brain responsible for thinking and memory. So, the question is then whether controlling blood pressure through medication also lower Alzheimer’s risk? What scientists found is that if you didn’t have Alzheimer’s and you were taking blood pressure medication, you were somewhat less likely to develop dementia. And if you had dementia from Alzheimer’s disease and you took certain anti-hypertensives, the disease was less likely to progress, said an older study conducted by John Hopkins. So, it is crucial to maintain your blood pressure levels with constant medical check-ups, says health experts.
According to UK's National Health Service, if you take steps to care for your cardiovascular health, you may reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. For example, quit smoking, abstain from binge drinking, (though some studies say wine is good in moderation), eat a balanced healthy diet, which includes five vegetables, fruits, less meat etc.
People who have diabetes should also learn to manage their blood sugar, say experts.
In addition, a University of Minnesota study attributed 41 per cent of dementia cases to 12 lifestyle factors, out of which obesity, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise contributed the most to risk of dementia. Working to lower these modifiable risk factors can reduce dementia, says the study.
Scientists are increasingly interested in the possible role of lifestyle factors and believe that a healthy diet, exercise, being social, and doing things that challenge your mind may lower the risk. Since the research is still in the initial phases, a watertight 'lifestyle recipe' is still in the realm of guesswork.
Other risk factors of dementia
The other risk factors listed by experts suggest that hearing loss, untreated depression, loneliness or social isolation and a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of dementia.
There is growing evidence that suggests that improved sleep can prevent Alzheimer disease and is linked to greater amyloid clearance from the brain. A seven to eight hours of sleep every night is considered adequate by experts.
Experts also suggest reading, learning foreign languages, playing musical instruments, volunteering in the local community, taking part in group sports, trying new activities or hobbies and maintaining an active social life slows down brain decline. Interventions such as "brain training" computer games are known to improve cognition over a short period, but research has not yet demonstrated whether this can help prevent dementia.
Busting myths about Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer strike people when they are 65 or older. This is untrue as it can happen to younger people too in their 30s, 40s and 50s and is known as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of ageing as it is believed. As you get older, it may seem normal to forget where you kept your cellphone but forgetting how to drive to a place you have been to many times is a serious problem. Alzheimer's is not an inevitable part of ageing.
It’s a myth that people don’t die of Alzheimer’s. it's the sixth leading cause of death in the US. Most people live 8 to 10 years after they’re diagnosed with the disease
There are treatments available to cure the disease. This is a myth since certain treatments can help against Alzheimer's symptoms but there is no definite way to slow or prevent the disease