Today, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, and the number of people projected to develop the mind-wasting disease is expected to skyrocket as our population ages. While there are few treatments that appear to be effective once Alzheimer's strikes, researchers the world over are finding easy, effective ways to help prevent the deadly disease. Simple changes in lifestyle can slash the risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by more than 50 percent, according to scientists at the U.K.'s University of Stirling's Dementia Services Development Center.
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Some of the best and easiest ways to lower your risk include:
1. Take vitamins. A two-year randomized study at the U.K.'s Oxford university found that patients who were already suffering mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who took high doses of the B vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, showed less brain shrinkage in areas affected by the disease than those who took a placebo tablet. The vitamins, which cost pennies a day, dramatically lowered levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with Alzheimer's, and slowed brain shrinkage by 90 percent. "It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer's disease in many people who suffer from mild memory problems," said Professor David Smith of the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford University, a co-leader of the trial.
2. Protect your noggin. The Alzheimer's Association says, "There appears to be a strong link between future risk of Alzheimer's and serious head trauma, especially when injury involves loss of consciousness." Wear a seat belt, use helmets when participating in sports, and minimize the risk of falls in your home.
3. Eat fish. Oily, cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which keep the brain healthy. People who eat omega-3's daily (you can also choose supplements) have a 26 percent lower risk of having brain lesions that cause dementia when compared to those who shun them.
4. Enjoy a glass of red wine. For years, research has shown a link between a reduced risk of Alzheimer's and drinking red wine. Now, scientists have discovered the link. The major genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's is a protein called ApoE4. It's present in about two-thirds of people who have the disease, and about a quarter of people are born with it. Researchers at Buck Institute found that the ApoE4 gene dramatically reduces the amount of an "anti-aging" protein called SirT1, and that increasing amounts of SirT1 prevent the formation of phospho-tau and amyloid-beta proteins which form the sticky plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's. Resveratrol, which is found in red wine, appears to increase the production of SirT1.
5. Stay sober. Binge drinking significantly increases the risk of Alzheimer's in older adults, according to British researchers. Seniors over the age of 65 who drank heavily at least twice a month were 250 percent more likely to suffer dramatic declines in cognitive ability and memory loss. A monthly binge (a binge was defined as four or more drinks on one occasion) raised the risk by 62 percent of being in the top 10 percent of those suffering the greatest decline. Another study showed that drinking more than two drinks a day fast-forwarded the onset of Alzheimer's by up to 4.8 years. (On the other hand, up to two daily drinks have been found to protect the brain from dementia.)
6. Dance. A study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that while reading reduced the risk of dementia in those 75 years and older, frequent dancing cut the risk by 76 percent—more than any activity studied, mental or physical. Experts believe dancing is so effective because it combines intense mental and physical activity. "Dancing is a complex activity," said researcher Dr. Joe Verghese of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "You have to remember the steps and how to dance them, you have to move in time with the music, and you have to adapt to the actions of your partner."
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7. Chow down on a curry. Curries, and other dishes popular throughout India and Southeastern Asia, contain the spice turmeric, whose main active ingredient is curcumin. A study at the University of California, Los Angeles, found curcumin slows the buildup of amyloid plaques — one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's — in the brain, and University of Illinois researchers found that curcumin protected cells from damage caused by beta-amyloid.
8. Eat chocolate. A recent study at Harvard Medical School found that older people who consumed chocolate every day improved their thinking skills as well as blood flow to the brain. Participants with impaired blood flow to the brain, whose average age was 73, drank two cups of hot chocolate every day for 30 days. At the end of the study, there was an 8.3 percent improvement in blood flow as well as improvements on cognitive tests. Researchers believe the antioxidants in chocolate called flavanols may work by protecting neurons from injury and improving the interaction of molecular structures involved in memory as well as by increasing blood flow.
9. Get your zzzz's. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that not getting enough quality sleep is associated with the first signs of Alzheimer's disease. People who reported troubled sleep or sleeping less had higher levels of beta amyloid plaque in their brains. Another study published in the journal Science found that sleep cleaned out wastes and toxins in the brain.
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