According to the 2009 World Alzheimer Report from Alzheimer's Disease International, a 10% increase in the number of dementia cases is expected next year which translates to over 35 million alzheimers cases. It is estimated that the incidence of dementia will almost double every 20 years, reaching 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050. Apart from the people actually suffering from alzheimers, there is a huge toll on caregivers. Over 75% of caregivers of alzheimers patients are known to suffer from significant psychological problems.
There is promising research to show that the risk of Alzheimer's disease can be reduced or prevented by following some healthy lifestyle measures:
1. Stimulate your brain - Keep yourself mentally active. Learn a new language, play a musical instrument, do crossword puzzles, search the internet, take up a hobby, socialize, read a book, practise memorizing. New activities create new brain pathways and build brain reserves. The more you challenge your brain, the more you help protect it and reduce risks of developing Alzheimers
2. Exercise - Studies have shown that being physically active slows the aging process. The risk of Alzheimers can be cut by almost 35% with just 5 sessions of exercise per week. If you add 2 or 3 strength training sessions and are over 65, you can cut your risk by 50%. In a recent study in Canada, women over 65 who performed aerobic exercises regularly scored 10% higher in brain function tests. Even activities such as house cleaning and taking stairs helps build brain health.
3. Brain healthy diet - Colorful vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, eggplant; berries such as blueberries, strawberries, cherries, oranges; nuts; olive oil; fish oils are packed with anti-oxidants and help reduce inflammation in brain cells while improving neural transmissions. Add vitamins such as B vitamins and folate to your diet. Green tea is also rich in antioxidants. A study of over 13,000 nurses showed that women who ate more cruciferous and leafy vegetables in their 60's had a lower rate of mental decline based on learning and memory tests.
4. Sleep and relaxation - Stress hormones cause premature aging, cognitive decline and prevent cell growth. Adequate sleep helps the brain's cells to get rejuvenated. Have a regular sleep schedule. Take up relaxation techniques such as practising breathing exercises, yoga, tai-chi, walking and meditation.
5. Smoking and Drinking - For those over 65, smoking increases the risks of Alzheimers by over 79%. If smoking is combined with drinking the age of Alzheimer's onset is reduced by upto 7 years. Giving up smoking immediately benefits the brain so quitting these habits is not only good for physical health but for mental health as well.
According to Dr. Greg M. Cole, associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, UCLA, "What the world needs is prevention, but new drugs will necessarily be focused on treatment of diagnosed disease. It takes many years to develop and test prevention methods so we have to act now. We can only hope that there are governments that are not too short-sighted or cognitively-impaired to generate the political will to make primary prevention happen".