By 2050 there could be as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Some of the most frequent early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are short-term memory loss, getting lost and problems finding words.
Later on it can lead to mood swings, confusion, long-term memory loss and a withdrawal from friends and family.
Whilst there is no cure, there are a number of lifestyle and dietary factors that have been associated with preventing dementia.
(Click the links for details of each study.)
1. Keep the brain active
Traditional pastimes like cards and doing puzzles may help to increase brain volume, according to new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014.
In the study, along with a brain scan, 329 middle-aged people were surveyed to see how cognitively active they were: how much they played games, read books, went to museums and so on.
The results showed that people who played the most games — like crosswords, checkers, cards and puzzles — also had the largest brain volume.
Stephanie Schultz, the study’s lead author said:
“Our findings suggest that, for some individuals, engagement in cognitively stimulating activities, especially those involving games such as puzzles and cards, might be a useful approach for preserving brain structures and cognitive functions that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.”
2. Avoid being cynical
People with high levels of cynicism are more likely to develop dementia, according to a new study published in the medical journal Neurology.
In the study, conducted in Finland, 1,449 people were given tests of their cynicism that included questions like:
- “I think most people would lie to get ahead.”
- “It is safer to trust nobody.”
- “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”
Eight years later, people who were high on cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than those low on that measure.
3. Take Vitamin E
Two recent studies provide evidence of the protective effects of Vitamin E against both mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory problems.
Dr. Mary Sano, author of one of the trails, explained:
“This trial showed that vitamin E delays progression of functional decline by 19% per year, which translates into 6.2 months benefit over placebo.”
The study’s authors think that vitamin E can be recommended as standard clinical practice.
A second study carried out in Finland found that higher levels of vitamin E in the blood seemed to protect against memory disorders.
4, 5, 6, 7 & 8. The big five lifestyle factors
The big five lifestyle factors are the ones you’ve heard many times before, especially in relation to heart disease.
They apply to dementia just the same:
4. Take regular exercise.
5. Don’t smoke.
6. Maintain a low body weight.
7. Eat a healthy diet.
8. Low alcohol intake.
A 35-year study recently revealed that people who followed four or five out of these five healthy habits had 60% lower levels of dementia and cognitive decline with ageing.
Adopting just one of these healthy habits reduced the rate of dementia by one-quarter.
Exercise provided the largest protective effect against cognitive decline and dementia.
Dr Doug Brown, of the Alzheimer’s Society, commenting on the study, said:
“We have known for some time that what is good for your heart is also good for your head, and this study provides more evidence to show that healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia.”
9. Take Vitamin D
Low levels of Vitamin D are substantially associated with developing Alzheimer’s and dementia in older people, according to the best study conducted so far.
The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that amongst those who had dementia, those low in Vitamin D were 53% more likely to develop the disease.
Amongst those who were severely deficient, the risk increased by 125%.
Similar increases in risk were seen for Alzheimer’s disease: low levels of vitamin D increased risk by 69% and severe deficiency by 122%.
10. Avoid sugar
Otherwise healthy people with high blood sugar levels are more likely to have memory problems, according to a recent study published in the journal Neurology.
This is not the first study to link higher levels of blood glucose with smaller brain structures, particularly the hippocampus.
Studies of those with type 2 diabetes and those with problems absorbing glucose have linked it with higher rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The authors suggest sugar may have a toxic effect on the brain, particularly in its memory centres:
“Direct “toxic” effects of glucose on neuronal structures include disturbances of intracellular second messenger pathways, imbalance in the generation and scavenging of reactive oxygen species, or advanced glycation of important functional and structural proteins in the brain.”