As part of the global effort to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, an international team of scientists has published their top 10 recommendations for preventing the disease.
They’ve trawled through existing research looking for key themes in what is the most comprehensive review that’s been done on Alzheimer’s risk factors. Here’s their list.
1. Avoid type 2 diabetes by keeping blood sugar and weight in check. While the link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s isn’t entirely clear, many people with diabetes have brain changes typical of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
2. Maintain weight at a healthy level, especially through midlife. Another study has linked obesity to reduced blood flow in the brain. In old age we don’t want to be too heavy or too thin.
3. Get as much education as possible in early life. It’s thought that early education helps to future-proof our brains by laying down extra brain cells and connections. Not all studies agree though. The real point is to use your brain at any age.
4. Avoid head trauma (such as concussion).
5. Keep your brain active by reading and learning new things.
6. Avoid or manage depression.
7. Manage ‘bad’ stress that raises cortisol (stress hormone) levels. People with high cortisol tend to perform worse on cognitive tests and have physical brain changes thought to be precursors to dementia.
8. Treat ‘hypostatic hypotension’ — i.e. when standing up makes someone feel light-headed or dizzy due to low blood pressure.
9. Manage blood pressure in middle-age.
10. Avoid high homocysteine — homocysteine is an amino acid that can encourage blood clots and artery damage. Fortunately, high levels can be reduced with B-complex vitamins.
While the list doesn’t mention lifestyle basics like food, exercise, sleep or not smoking, they’re implied in their recommendations to keep a healthy weight and manage blood sugar, stress and blood pressure.
Trying to pinpoint risk factors is tricky because there are potentially quite a few, and some overlap.
But as this group emphasises, even for people who inherit a genetic risk of Alzheimer’s, the keys to prevention boil down to lifestyle measures we have a big say in.
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