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Stay Sharp: What you can do to prevent Alzheimers

Statesman Journal Living Well – September 2015

Of all the health concerns we have as we age, the ones that are often the most concerning are those with seemingly no preventive measures. We all know that an active lifestyle can keep our weight down; staying out of the sun goes a long way to preventing skin cancer; and eating right can help stave off heart disease. Until recently though, there’s been little known about preventing age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease. While certain treatments can help against Alzheimer’s symptoms, there is currently no treatment to stop or slow the disease itself. That said, recent studies now show that you can takes steps to help keep your mind sharp as you age and possibly delay decline in memory and function.

While there is a small percentage of people with a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s, experts agree that in most cases, Alzheimer’s, like other common chronic conditions, heart disease and cancer, probably develops as a result of a complex mélange of age, genetics, lifestyle and other medical conditions. Research into memory-preserving tactics is still in its infancy, but the studies are promising. The good news is that employing the preventive strategies won’t cause any harm, and the side effects may include increased vitality and fun.

First of all, the standard pillars of a healthy lifestyle are a good start to maintaining your mental edge. Several conditions known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease — such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol — also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. So eating right, getting an adequate amount of physical activity, managing your stress and having a good support system go a long way to reducing one’s risk for both. It’s a good place to start in combating any number of health concerns.

            Eat well. An internet search will return list upon list of so-called “brain foods.” Their effect on improved cognition may be subject to debate, but their impacts on other areas of health are documented. So eat your greens! (And your cruciferous vegetables, legumes, whole grains, berries and red/orange veggies, fish oil and nuts.) Many nutritionists recommend a Mediterranean diet for overall health.

Get moving. The benefits of regular exercise not only reduce your risk of heart disease and vascular problems, the increased blood flow may help keep your brain active.

Stay connected. Maintaining strong social connections has been shown to be effective in reducing risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions, and may also stimulate nerve cells in the brain. Plus, social support systems are important in helping manage health issues that arise as we age.

Protect your noggin. Just as sunburns in our youth put us at risk for skin conditions later in life, head trauma may play a role in developing Alzheimer’s. Do your best to stay safe by wearing a helmet when riding a bike, horse or motorcycle and buckle up every time you get into a car.

Flex your brain muscles, too.  People who have spent more time in formal education may have a lower incidence of mental decline, even when they have other risk factors. Education, reading, playing a musical instrument or pursuing artistic interests may help your brain develop a strong nerve network that compensates for cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn a new language. Studies have shown that if you are at high risk for Alzheimer’s, and you speak two or more languages, you might experience a slower onset of symptoms. These researchers believe there is a connection between the way your brain processes several languages, and a slower cognitive decline. They surmise that the changes that take place in your brain’s structure when you know more than one language – blood flow, neural activity and general brain muscle-flexing – make up for parts of the brain that are compromised by age or Alzheimer’s.
At the end of the day, the healthy habits that are good for your body are good for your mind as well. 

About Santiam Hospital

Santiam Hospital & Clinics is a not-for-profit, 40 bed acute-care hospital located in Stayton, Oregon, which is a short 12-mile drive east of Salem, and serves more than 30,000 people annually from the communities of Stayton, Sublimity, Aumsville, Mill City, Jefferson, and the surrounding areas.

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