An estimated 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, which the Alzheimer's Association defines as "a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks." The neurologic disorder mostly affects people over the age of 65 and the exact cause is unknown but according to the National Institute on Aging, "Scientists don't yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer's disease in most people. The causes probably include a combination of age-related changes in the brain, along with genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors." While there is currently no cure, there are bad habits that increase your risk and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share ways to help prevent early onset. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Dr. Theodore Strange, Chair of Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital says, "Alcohol taken in excess for a prolonged period increases risk of dementia."
Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 15 years of direct patient care experience adds, "Binge drinking or having multiple alcoholic drinks daily can cause significant damage to brain cells over time, leading to memory loss and decreased motor and nervous system function. Memory loss caused by drinking is due to a thiamine deficiency known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and has a known link to Alzheimer's. B1 supplements can reverse these effects if caught early enough, but if untreated, alcohol use can lead to permanent brain damage, severe confusion, visual impairment and a decreased ability to walk."
Lack of Physical Activity
Marchese tells us, "A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for Alzheimer's and dementia. Physical inactivity can lead to chronic high blood pressure, cardiac disease and diabetes, all risk factors for Alzheimer's. Regular exercise and movement improve blood circulation to the brain, providing the oxygen necessary for healthy brain cells. Malnourished brain cells constrict and can impact nerve function throughout the brain and body. Cardiovascular activities such as jogging, hiking or swimming improve heart health over time and lower the risk for Alzheimer's disease."
Lack of Mental Stimulation
According to Marchese, "Healthy brain function is linked to regular mental stimulation and deep thinking exercises. Activities such as puzzles, wordplay, riddles and strategy games are fun and easy ways to exercise your mind daily. Even better, consider learning a new language or skill, such as playing an instrument. New skills are a great way to improve brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, plus they provide new opportunities for socializing."
Lack of Socialization
Dr. Strange explains, "Hearing loss can play a big role and increase the risk of dementia likely through social isolation and difficulties with everyday activities."
Marchese tells us, "Isolation can damage brain health and increase the risk of Alzheimer's. People who have lost their spouse and then live alone for many years are at a higher risk of dementia-related illnesses such as Alzheimer's. Social isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic has left millions of people mentally drained with feelings of withdrawal and social anxiety. Finding ways to increase socialization through planned events or virtual meetups online can significantly benefit brain health and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's."
Poor Diet and Sleep Habits
Dr. Strange states, "An unhealthy diet high in saturated fat, sugar and salt can increase risk for developing dementia and obesity increases the risk of developing as well so weight loss is important."
Marchese explains, "Two of our most basic habits are eating and sleeping, and there's a reason they're so crucial to brain health. A diet high in red meat, saturated fats and refined sugars can increase inflammation throughout the body and brain. Chronic inflammation can damage and destroy vital tissue in sensitive organs and brain cells. One recent study showed that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein reduces the risk of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, the warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. Just as important as diet is a good night's sleep. Seven to nine hours every night allows our body to recover and heal and the brain to develop long-term memory connections. Sufficient sleep ensures we have enough energy and focus for the day ahead and decreases the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia."