According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 3 seniors in America die with Alzheimer’s disease or another kind of dementia. Due to the aging of the baby boomer generation, there has been a huge increase in the number of cases of those suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, with 200,000 Americans out of 5.4 million being under the age of 65. However, alleviating the challenges that the disease brings and reducing the level of decline to memory, cognitive function and general wellbeing is possible.
For those already diagnosed with the disease, there are still effective methods to reduce the rate of decline while improving daily life. Leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle is one such method that could prove beneficial. The idea of having a healthy lifestyle might initially inspire thoughts of bland diets and having to quit your favorite bad habits but it is possible to lead a healthy lifestyle with an emphasis on balance.
In Professor Gill Livingston’s report on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care, she observes that adults who exercise are more likely to maintain cognition than those who do not. This is partly due to the fact that exercise reduces the risk of depression in dementia which increases the level of impairment to memory. On a day-to-day basis, restlessness and wandering can be a problem for those with Alzheimer’s. By regularly exercising, there is less likelihood that they will feel the need to move around and possibly go wandering during the day, wanting to rest instead.
Exercise is also a positive way to maintain a good sleep-wake cycle which can help to facilitate better sleeping patterns and restfulness at night. It can be common for those with Alzheimer’s to nap throughout the day which can hinder a good night’s sleep, leading to exhaustion, confusion, irritability and wandering late at night.
Cardiovascular exercise gets the heart pumping and increases blood flow to the brain. Activities such as swimming, running or even brisk walking for around 2.5 hours a week is the ideal target amount of time to aim for. While these sorts of activities cannot completely restore memory, research has shown that they can certainly improve memory. Maintaining good cardiovascular health also reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
Having a balanced diet is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle since it can have such a huge effect on internal bodily functions, mood and reflects in outward appearance. There is no special diet that those with Alzheimer’s should specifically follow but as the disease progresses, a loss of appetite, weight loss and being overwhelmed by too many food choices may become problems.
At the Alzheimer’s Association International conference, it was suggested that a balanced diet also had a dramatic effect on elderly people’s risk of developing dementia. The diet consistently credited with being the healthiest and most balanced is the Mediterranean diet. The diet is high in fruit and vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, olive oil and lean sources of protein such as fish and poultry. Those following the Mediterranean diet could lower their risk of dementia by as much as a third. However, for those who have already developed Alzheimer’s, this sort of healthy, balanced diet, low in fat and rich in fruit and vegetables, is still beneficial. Mayo Clinic states that it can help to protect cognitive health. It can also reduce the amount of options, helping to alleviate the panic that too much choice can provoke.
As social creatures, it is important to stay involved in daily life and maintain relationships. Elderly people can become isolated, meaning that they are not thriving and nor is their brain. For younger people suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, there is a possibility of there being trauma associated with how the disease will affect their lifestyle and young families, which can also lead to a lack of interest in socializing and feelings of depression. Staying involved in social activities such as making plans with friends, volunteering or joining a class keeps the brain functioning and combats depression, which approximately between 5-23% of people with dementia experience. Studies actually show that by feeling sociable and connected in relationships results in better memory and cognition scores when tested.
The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association concluded that it is possible to reduce cognitive decline for those with Alzheimer’s by making lifestyle changes. A healthy, balanced lifestyle relates to looking after the brain and the body, the mental and the physical well being. A balanced approach towards lifestyle, behavior and habits is an effective method to reduce the risk of developing or slowing the decline of dementia.