As research continues to explore the connections between lifestyle choices and Alzheimer’s disease, here’s a quick list of 10 ways to reduce your risk.

  1. Know your Risk: Genetics, gender, and a host of modifiable risk factors have been attributed to Alzheimer’s disease. Consult with a neurologist about assessing your own personal risk factors; if you need help getting started, visit www.northshore.org/brainhealth.
  2. Commit to Lifelong Learning: Learning new things – even in your sixties and seventies and beyond – keeps your brain strong. Increasing the brain’s complexity through cognitive activities like intellectually challenging work or learning a new language or instrument increases the brain’s resilience, or the ability to reorganize itself in the presence of disease (like amyloid plaques associated with dementia).
  3. Stay Social: Staying mentally and socially active throughout your life has multiple benefits for your brain. Maintaining active social networks keeps us focused and engaged in life, and it’s a great workout for the brain. Studies show that older adults with larger and active social networks are significantly less likely to develop dementia. Meeting new people is important too, as this involves active listening, remembering and recalling new names and new details about previous conversations.
  4. Sleep: Our brain clears itself of cellular wastes that accumulate during the day while we sleep deeply, and getting poor quality sleep can lead to a buildup of proteins that are involved in brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Research shows that perhaps 15% of Alzheimer’s may be attributable to sleep problems.
  5. Treat Depression: A report by the Alzheimer’s Association states that among other issues, depression increases risk for cognitive decline and dementia in general. Depression also increases the likelihood of staying at home, affecting sociability as well.
  6. Maintain Blood Sugar Levels: One recent study concluded that healthy glucose levels and normal blood pressure at age 50-60 was especially protective of cognition at age 70-80.
  7. Eat a Mediterranean Diet: Not only is it good for your heart, but it’s good for your brain too! Fill at least half your plate with non-starchy vegetables including green leafy vegetables. Opt for extra virgin olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice with salad in lieu of pre-made salad dressings. Choose omega-3 rich seafood such as wild caught salmon over red meat or pork. A Mediterranean diet may reduce risk by fighting against inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
  8. Do Something New Each Day: Build your cognitive reserves by trying something new every day. Maybe it’s a different route when walking the dog, a new recipe for dinner, or joining a new tennis team. Having novel experiences increases our brain’s stimulation and resilience.
  9. Maintain your relationship with your doctor:See your primary care physician regularly to diagnose and manage chronic conditions, especially diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, each of which increases your risk of Alzheimer’s if left untreated.
  10. Exercise: Many experts agree that adopting an active lifestyle is the single most impactful way to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. Research shows that aerobic exercise – such as walking briskly for 30-40 minutes, 3-4 days per week – reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease and reduces risk of other major contributors to Alzheimer’s risk like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. In one major study, individuals in good cardiovascular health in their 50s and 60s had better cognition 20 years later, compared to those who had poorer cardiovascular health. In another randomized trial of subjects aged 60-80, those aerobically walking not only spared their brain from shrinking, but experienced growth of the memory center of the brain. Briskly walking one way for 15-20 minutes, and then back, is an easy way to add exercise to your weekly routine.