Few things are more terrifying than the prospect of outliving our brains. Unfortunately, on our current trajectory, more than 20% of Americans over 65 can expect to have Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) by 2030.
AD is the most common form of dementia and the sixth leading cause of death in the US. No currently-available treatment meaningfully improves cognitive function in AD, they all just slow the decline.
So, prevention is key.
Ditch the myth that genetics determine your risk. Genes load the weapon. Our lifestyle choices and environment pull the trigger. We don’t just hand down genes, we hand down habits. If you have dementia in the family or a genetic risk factor like ApoE4, then double down on preventive strategies ASAP.
The 2020 Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care reported that the following risk factors contribute to 40% of dementia cases:
- less education
- hearing impairment
- physical inactivity
- traumatic brain injury
- high blood pressure
- social isolation
- air pollution
- excessive alcohol consumption
Brain changes of AD begin decades before the onset, so the earlier we engage preventively, the better.
LifeStyle Strategies to Prevent Alzheimer’s
Fortunately, by adopting a few simple lifestyle strategies, 90% of us can avoid getting Alzheimer’s.
Build brain capacity with lifelong learning, playing a musical instrument, enjoying gardening, games or crafting and staying socially engaged. Socially active people have half the risk of AD.
Failing to address hearing impairment is associated with a 200-500% increased dementia risk (the risk rises with severity). Like a muscle, if you’re not challenging the brain, it will quickly atrophy.
Eating mostly whole food, plant-based Mediterranean diet (LOTS of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fruit, nuts/seeds, and limited animal products) dramatically reduces risk for AD, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.
It is also critical to work with your provider or nutritionist (particularly those with added training in nutrition or functional medicine) to optimize levels of brain-critical nutrients and assure balanced hormones.
Avoid ultra-processed or sweetened/artificially sweetened foods. Retreat from meat, especially processed meat (deli meats, sausages, and bacon). Replacing <5% of animal protein intake with plant protein reduces risk of diabetes, obesity, mortality and reduces dementia risk 300%. So try “meatless Mondays” aiming for 1-2 vegetarian days per week and 1 plant-based meal daily.
AD risk is more than doubled in sedentary individuals. Simply walking daily is proven to increase brain volume and, as Dr. Daniel Amen loves to say, “when it comes to the brain, size matters.”
During sleep our brains flush out toxins, encode memories, and repair trauma. Studies show that those getting less than 6 hours sleep nightly in middle age are 24-37% more likely to develop dementia.
Insufficient sleep, lack of REM or deep sleep and untreated sleep apnea have been shown to accelerate dementia by up to a decade.
Brain injury, whether from sports, risky activities, alcohol, drugs (including marijuana and many medications), or environmental toxins (mercury, lead, aluminum, copper, pesticides, and particulate air pollution) is among the most potent risk drivers of AD.
Smoking doubles the risk of AD but risk returns to normal with quitting.
A variety of infections cause neuroinflammation increasing dementia risk. A recent study from UT Houston showed risk of AD was reduced 30% with Tdap vaccination, 25% with shingles vaccination, and 27% with pneumococcal vaccination. Vaccination for influenza and the extremely neurotoxic covid virus Sars CoV2 are also likely brain protective.
Vaccines are in development for Alzheimer’s treatment but they rely on the controversial hypothesis that AD is caused by the build-up of misfolded Tau and Amyloid proteins. Many scientists now believe the abnormal proteins are actually a protective response to myriad root causes from trauma, inflammation, toxins, metabolic derangements, etc.
Dehydration impairs brain blood flow and toxin removal. Dementia further impairs the ability to recognize and respond to thirst. Front-loading with 16 ounces of filtered water before coffee or tea in the morning and aiming for 80 ounces through the day assures excellent brain support.
Coffee and green tea intake (without added sugars or saturated fats) are rich in antioxidants that further support healthy brains.
These simple lifestyle strategies can dramatically mitigate our dementia risk, should we choose to take proactive action rather than passive victimhood.
A brain truly is a terrible thing to waste. Treat yours with the TLC it deserves.