• Fri, Sep 16 2011

3 Steps You Can Take *Now* to Protect Your Brain in Old Age

I understand if you gloss over most Alzheimer’s and dementia news. After all, with so many health issues that can affect women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, why worry now about something that’s not generally a concern ’til one’s eligible for Medicare? Here’s why.

“There are those beliefs out there that dementia is  just a natural part of aging, but it’s not,” said Dr. Sube Banerjee, who co-authored a major report released by Alzheimer’s Disease International this week (which noted that nearly 3/4 of people living with dementia go undiagnosed).

While there’s still no known ‘cure’ for Alzheimer’s and dementia, managing and mitigating the effects of the disease are a lot less hopeless than previously believed—especially if you catch it early. At the same time, the causes of Alzheimer’s are becoming more demystified all the time. Not too long ago, nobody knew why some people’s brains went wacko in old age and others’ didn’t. Now, scientists and health professionals offer up all sorts of explanations, from brain plaque (a theory going out of vogue) to atrial defibrillation to clumps of protein in nerve cells. Yes, this is still a burgeoning study area, with little in the way of conclusive results. But (as someone with a family history of dementia), I think it’s comforting to know the disease isn’t strictly a Russian roulette game. Recent research, in fact, suggests you may be able to help protect your brain against the ravages of Alzheimer’s and dementia by:

Boosting Your B-Vitamin Intake: Researchers at the British Science Festival this week reported findings that high doses of B vitamins and folic acid could reduce memory decline and brain shrinkage in those already suffering from mild cognitive impairment. Does this mean that boosting your B-vitamin intake (through food or supplements) now could help ward off memory decline in the future? No one’s sure yet. But Dr. Celeste de Jager, who led the study, says “middle age people should start thinking about their vitamin levels” now. This doesn’t mean you should rush out and buy B vitamins, an Alzheimer’s Association spokesperson said. But making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin B in your diet (no matter your age) couldn’t hurt. Added bonus? Boosting your B-Vitamin intake can also help relieve the symptoms of PMS.

Cutting Fat, Carbs: A diet low in saturated fat and refined sugars may reduce your risk of developing dementia, according to research published earlier this summer. For four weeks, researchers fed 20 healthy adults either a diet that had lots of saturated fat and refined sugars, or a low glycemic index diet with little saturated fat. At the end of the experiment, those who ate the low-fat, low-glycemic-index diet performed better on memory tests and had lower blood levels of certain markers of Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has shown that a Mediterranean-style diet—high in fish, nuts, olive oil and fresh veggies—could cut your Alzheimer’s disease risk.

Exercising: Aerobic exercise may reduce your chances of developing dementia, and slow the progression of the disease once it starts. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic analyzed more than 1,600 papers on exercise and brain health, and concludedthat “you can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment.”

None of this is game-changing stuff—but that’s good news! The very things you do to keep your body healthy can also have a positive effect on your mind, too.

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  • Sara

    As a nurse aide who deals heavily with alzheimers and dementia patients, I appreciate this. The time to take care of yourself is now.