Alzheimer’s disease is one of the topics we write about most often on the AgingOptions blog (including this article from just last week). Few topics generate more interest and more worry than dementia, especially since the statistics sound so alarming: roughly 6 million people are affected today (not counting family and friends), a figure which is expected to more than double over the next three decades. But as with so many things that scare us, often the best antidote to fear is information. If we learn the facts, we can regain our perspective and then develop a plan.
A Brain-Healthy Lifestyle May Reduce the Risk and Slow the Onset of Dementia
That’s why we were drawn to this recent article from the NextAvenue website, by writer Jennifer Nelson. While most of us fear the onset of dementia, she suggests, the odds are actually fairly low that we’ll develop abnormal cognitive impairment, at least until we’re well along in our senior years. But whatever the odds, the important thing is to take action. While Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can’t be cured, there is a growing body of evidence that there are steps we can take which – for most of us – can stave off cognitive decline by helping us adopt what Nelson refers to as a “brain-healthy” lifestyle.
“During the last Alzheimer’s disease support meeting I attended at my mother’s assisted living center,” Nelson writes, “I sheepishly asked if anyone else was worried about their own risk for the disease. A lot of hands went up.” She quotes a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) that found more than 9 out of 10 of us worry about degenerative brain disease. Statistically, the danger is low: a Harvard University study cited in the NextAvenue article determined that a 65-year-old has a 2 percent risk of being diagnosed this year with Alzheimer’s disease. Having a parent with the illness increases the risk to about 2.6 percent. That still means most of us worry about something that, in the short run at least, is pretty unlikely.
A Brain-Healthy Lifestyle Means Controlling What We Can Control
Whatever the risk may be, the growing weight of research suggests that there are steps we can take to improve our odds of staying sharper longer. “We know living a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing chronic illness and conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” Nelson says. “But now, research finds that living a brain-healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive decline.” As she puts it, clinicians who study cognitive health have identified what the NextAvenue article calls “seven pillars for living a brain-healthy lifestyle, which may in combination, slash your risk for brain-degenerative diseases.” While we can’t control genetics and many other factors which may contribute to dementia, if we choose to control the things we can control, we’ll likely be far better off.
The Seven Pillars for a Brain-Healthy Lifestyle
While none of these “pillars” sounds new, taken as a group they represent important lifestyle changes that will benefit us in a host of ways, especially as we age. Here’s a brief overview:
- Pillar No. 1: Exercise. “The mind-blowing research on exercise alone should get you moving,” Nelson writes. Repeated studies have demonstrated that staying fit dramatically cuts the risk of dementia, because exercise reduces chronic inflammation and increases the release of brain-healthy proteins. It also improves cardiovascular health which is directly linked to brain health.
- Pillar No. 2: Diet. There are a lot of fads and gimmicks out there, but NextAvenue reports that the only diet with proven results is a combination of the so-called DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet. This combination emphasizes fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, poultry, and olive oil, and recommends much less processed foods, sugar, whole-fat dairy and red meat.
- Pillar No. 3: Mental Fitness. “Learning builds cognitive reserves,” says the article, “[and] also helps the brain resist cognitive decline.” The advice? “Learn an instrument, take up a language or join some kind of class. If you’re working, try to learn something new every week on the job. Read, take an online course, teach yourself the Latin names for the plants in your garden or anything else you want to know. Then, keep learning.”
- Pillar No. 4: Social Interaction. Research shows that isolation impairs brain health. While the precise connection is still unclear, doctors are convinced that depression and lack of stimulation clearly undermine heathy brain function. Staying engaged is critical.
- Pillar No. 5: Sleep. Doctors now believe that the brain uses periods of deep sleep as a restorative opportunity to reduce harmful brain compounds linked to dementia. Experts recommend seven to eight hours of unmedicated sleep a night.
- Pillar No. 6: Stress. “High levels of stress are linked to memory problems and smaller brain volume,” NextAvenue Learn to cope with stress in ways that work best for y0u: meditation, taking a walk, listening to music, or anything else you find relaxing.
- Pillar No. 7: Overall Medical Health. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that brain health and “body health” are unrelated. “The illnesses most related to brain health include Type 2 diabetes and hypertension,” says NextAvenue. Diabetes doubles the odds of vascular dementia, and untreated depression also puts us at risk. Taking care of your overall medical and mental health is essential for a brain-healthy lifestyle.
Reduce Retirement Risk With Some “Retirement-Healthy” LifePlanning
Taking care of ourselves physically and mentally is something we all know we need to do, but “knowing” and “doing” are two different matters. In a similar vein, here at AgingOptions we’re often surprised at the number of intelligent adults who are heading blindly toward retirement without any comprehensive planning. You would never take a major trip without a well-planned itinerary, after all. Think of your retirement as a journey that can last three decades!
How can you ensure that you’ll be prepared for what lies ahead? Our proven answer is a comprehensive retirement strategy called LifePlanning. A LifePlan allows you to enjoy retirement on your terms, secure in the knowledge that you won’t outlive your assets, you won’t become a burden to your loved ones, and you won’t be forced against your will into a nursing home or other institutional care. LifePlanning means retirement peace of mind.
We invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich for a free information session called a LifePlanning Seminar where you and others just like you will get your questions answered without any pressure whatsoever. Do what thousands have done: visit our Live Events page and register for the LifePlanning Seminar date, time and location that works for you. You’ll discover that it’s the “retirement-healthy” thing to do. We’ll see you soon – and meanwhile, “Age on!”
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)