Reducing Your Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

Are you over the age of 65? Did a parent or grandparent have Alzheimer’s disease? Do you have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol? Any of these things can put you at risk for Alzheimer’s.

Obviously, you can’t change your age or your genetic makeup, but there are still somethings you can do to reduce your risk for dementia. Here are some tips:

Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s by giving your brain the nutrients it needs. It can also reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which are Alzheimer’s risk factors.

It seems the idea of what constitutes a “healthy diet” has evolved somewhat over time. You still need to eat a diet that’s low in fat and high in foods that are nutritious, like vegetables, whole grains, fruit, low-fat dairy, and lean protein (e.g., fish, poultry, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds). But the current theory on healthy eating is you should stay away from processed or packaged foods, and only eat foods that are found in nature. And stay away from fad diets. They’re not healthy, especially for seniors. The Harvard School of Public Health has developed a Healthy Eating Pyramid and a Healthy Eating Plate to help you best determine what you should be eating and in what quantities.

And here’s a local healthy eating tip. Kansas City has a ton of Farmers Markets where you can stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. City Market is the first that comes to mind. But if that’s too far to drive Google “Overland Park Farmers Market” or “Prairie Village Farmers Market” (or whatever Kansas City area city you live in), and you’ll likely find a Farmers Market near you.

Exercise. Nobody wants to do it (well, most of us don’t), but everybody knows they should. But exercise improves the blood flow to your brain, reducing your risk for Alzheimer’s. It also helps prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for dementia. And here’s another reason why you should exercise, especially if you’re over the age of 65. It can improve your flexibility, balance, and stamina, thereby improving mobility as you age.

To maintain brain health, you’ll need to do a combination of aerobic exercises (e.g., walking, bicycling, swimming) and strength training (e.g., hand weights, push-ups, planks). For added balance and flexibility, you might also want to do some yoga or tai chi.

Keep diabetes in check. Diabetes can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s, so you’ll want to do everything you can to control yours (or to prevent diabetes) in order to reduce your dementia risk. Make sure you’re checking your blood sugar on a regular basis (as instructed by your doctor), as well as taking any insulin or other medications as prescribed. You also need to follow your diabetic diet plan (or the plan outlined above if you’re not currently diabetic) and exercise regularly (See paragraph on exercise above.). Also, if you’re eating a healthier diet and exercising, your medications may need to be adjusted. So let your doctor know what your plan is before you start so he or she can monitor your progress.

Challenge your brain. Whether or not brain games, crossword puzzles, or games like scrabble can actually ward off Alzheimer’s depends on who you ask (and there are reputable sources on both sides). But my 90-year-old aunt is the “Scrabble Queen” and my 87-year old dad does the New York Times crossword puzzle every day, and both are sharp as tacks. My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t big on reading, puzzles, or board games. And she died after a four-year battle with Alzheimer’s at the age of 82. So I’m sticking with the side that believes doing things that challenge your brain helps reduce your risk for dementia.

Keep learning. Take a class you’ve always wanted to take. Play trivia games with friends. Find a new DIY project and give it a try. Learning something new exercises your brain, which can help reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s.

Get help if you need it. If you’re having a tough time cooking healthy meals, exercising, and controlling your diabetes, or if you just want someone to help hone your cognitive skills, you may want to enlist the help of a Kansas City home care agency.

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