How to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019 | Last updated: February 2021
There are a variety of risk factors in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. While some are unable to be modified, like age or genetics, while others are modifiable, like lifestyle and behavioral factors. While there is nothing that will absolutely guarantee the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, modifying risk factors can help to reduce your risk of developing the condition.
Things like aging, cardiovascular disease, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and overall unhealthy lifestyle behaviors can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. If you don’t know where to start, talk with your doctor about your healthy lifestyle habits and how you might go about making small changes that can add up to big results.
The link between cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's
Many of the same risk factors for cardiovascular disease are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease: diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes, sleep apnea, and high cholesterol. There are multiple studies finding associations between the previously mentioned risk factors and cognitive decline.2
Physical activity not only helps to combat obesity and aids in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, but it also has been associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment and potentially cognitive improvement.2 More research is needed on this association since the link to reduced cognitive decline is unclear, but regular exercise can help improve your overall health and provide a wide range of benefits.
Quitting smoking and cutting back alcohol consumption are not only beneficial for your overall health, but can also help to decrease your risk of cognitive decline and developing Alzheimer’s disease.2 Quitting smoking may help to bring down your risk to that of someone who’s never smoked.2 If you need help with quitting smoking or reducing your alcohol consumption, talk with your doctor. They will be able to provide you with resources to assist you, and if you need medication, they’ll be able to prescribe it.
The link between social connections and Alzheimer's
Although age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, you can’t do much about that risk factor – but you can make sure that you’re staying healthy as you get older.
Maintaining strong social connections with others is helpful: join some kind of social group, call your friends, make time to visit with them or go out for a meal, and don’t isolate yourself.
Stay mentally active, as well. It’s tempting to lounge around and watch television all the time, but like all muscles that atrophy without use, the brain needs to be exercised, as well. Read magazines or newspapers, do crossword puzzles or word find puzzles, or find some sort of activity that requires critical thinking, like chess.
Staying social and maintaining mental fitness might help reduce your risk of cognitive decline.1,2
Changing general lifestyle behaviors to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's
In addition to smoking cigarettes, physical activity, and excessive consumption of alcohol, diet has also been found to have an association with cognitive decline and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. More research needs to be done to examine the strength of the association since diet is one part of a lifestyle that is often associated with other risk factors such as obesity, reduced cardiovascular health, and behaviors like smoking or drinking, and it can be hard to tease out which factor is most causative.2
A heart-healthy diet will not only have benefits for your overall health but may also help to prevent or reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This means limiting sugars and saturated fats, and increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The two main diets that have been studied that may provide benefits are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, as well as a combination of the two.1,2 The Mediterranean diet is a diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and olive oil. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is heavy on vegetables, fruits, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, grains, beans, and vegetable oils, while also limiting sodium and sugar intake.1
Preventing Alzheimer’s disease may not be entirely possible, but there are ways to lower your risk of developing the disease. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors, which ones are modifiable, and how you can start reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Many of these factors may be tied into other medical conditions you have, so it’s best to check with your doctor before you start any kind of diet or exercise routine. Together with your healthcare provider, you can put together a plan to improve your health.