7 ways to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s
Most of us fear losing our minds more than we fear cancer, according to a recent survey – but there is a lot you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease taking hold.
Having the odd forgetful moment is one thing – but what if you suddenly can’t recall all sorts of details? Names, dates and places seem to elude you on a daily basis. You feel out-of-control, stressed and anxious. In the back of your slightly muddled brain, you wonder if something might be wrong.
For many, this is how Alzheimer’s disease starts. At first it’s easy to ignore – you pass the memory glitches off as ‘senior moments’, but left unchecked they could develop into a serious illness that could affect your ability to work, drive and complete daily activities such as cooking and getting dressed. Eventually, you could become dependent on a carer. Don’t take your mental health for granted as there’s a lot you can do to prevent – and help slow down – Alzheimer’s.
What causes Alzheimer’s? And can you prevent it?
No single cause for Alzheimer’s has been identified. A combination of factors are thought to cause it including age, genetics, diet and general health.
But a healthy lifestyle, that includes the seven points below, could reduce your risk of developing dementia by as much as 20 per cent.
1. Exercise regularly
This helps keep your heart and vascular system healthy, ensuring that plenty of nourishing blood gets to your brain to keep it healthy. Research suggests 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, or a 20-minute jog three times a week, is enough to get the benefits.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Keeping your body mass index (BMI) in check by eating a balanced diet is also essential. Being overweight puts you at risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, all of which increase your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.
3. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
These contain vitamins and antioxidants, which may help to protect your brain.
4. Stop smoking
This is essential as it’s a habit that can harm the blood vessels in your brain. Research suggests that smokers are almost twice as likely to develop the disease as non-smokers. On the other hand, drinking moderate amounts of antioxidant-rich red wine can help to protect your brain.
5. Manage your stress levels
One study found that people who led stressful lives in middle age were more likely to develop dementia in later life. Take time out to give yourself a break.
6. Keep your brain active
Learning new skills, say some experts, could enhance your cognitive strength, delaying the onset of dementia. A few studies show regular brain training has a positive effect on memory, but more research is needed.
7. Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly
Take steps to keep them within the healthy range. A healthy heart and blood vessels are essential for a well-functioning brain.
Don’t ignore the signs of Alzheimer’s
Report any memory loss and mood swings to your GP. There’s no straightforward test for Alzheimer’s. Your GP will need to rule out other health problems with similar symptoms, such as infections, vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, brain tumours, depression and the side effects of drugs.