June 23, 2021
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or another dementia, know that you’re not alone. The road ahead will consist of good days and bad days, but an emphasis on living a healthier lifestyle can help prepare you to live well and focus your energies on what is most important to you.
Living a healthy life with Alzheimer's disease involves examining the influences that impact your experience living with dementia. The health benefits associated with maintaining your physical, emotional, social and spiritual health may help improve your daily life.
Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet can help you live well with your diagnosis for as long as possible. Research suggests that mild-to-moderate physical activity may help delay or slow a decline in thinking skills, reduce stress, possibly help improve symptoms of depression, and may even reduce risk of falls. Some evidence also suggests that exercise may directly benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow. Even stronger evidence suggests exercise may protect brain health through its proven benefits to the cardiovascular system. Just be sure to check with your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
A balanced diet has not been proven as an effective treatment to address symptoms of Alzheimer's, but the best current evidence suggests that heart-healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, also may help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.
Coming to terms with a serious diagnosis like Alzheimer's disease involves embracing changes in your emotional state, so allow yourself to experience a range of emotions. One of the most important things you can do is talk about your feelings with someone you trust such as your spouse, partner, a close friend, pastor or counselor. Sometimes a different perspective can be helpful as you learn to adjust to living with the disease and cope with difficult feelings.
"Research has shown that making healthy lifestyle choices can help keep your brain and body healthy as you age. Whether you're living with Alzeheimer's disease, or caring for someone who is, making healthy choices is key to living well."
—Melanie Smith, Director of Care and Support, Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter
While there is no conclusive evidence that brain exercises can slow or reverse cognitive decline, learning new information, taking a class, or challenging yourself to try a new hobby or activity may help increase your brain activity. Some types of mental exercises may have the added benefit of connecting you with others socially, which also may improve your mental health.
Strong relationships and an active social network can have an impact on your health. Building a support network with others who are living in the early stage can help normalize what you're experiencing, reduce the impact of stigma and improve your quality of life.
At first, you may be hesitant to engage in social activities for fear of making a mistake or having difficulty with communication. Consider pursuing activities that you enjoy or that satisfy you so much, that you can move past your hesitation. You can also find early-stage social engagement programs near you.
Enhancing your spiritual life can help you cope with challenging feelings, find meaning in your diagnosis and live your life more deeply. Some people find their spiritual core through church or connections with their spiritual community, or through being in nature. Others find the essence of self through solitary activities that calm the mind, like meditation, yoga or prayer. Still others find it through the love of family and friends, by engaging or just being with those who provide understanding and acceptance.
By educating yourself about the disease, developing effective coping strategies and planning for the future, you can create a solid foundation from which to cope with the new challenges and changes that lie ahead. And importantly, these healthy behaviors are also critical for those caring for someone with Alzheimer's or other dementia. As a caregiver, it is important to practice your own self-care and to ensure you also have a support network for your own well-being.
Resources, support and information are always available — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — at alz.org/delval, or through the Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900.
As the world's largest nonprofit funder of Alzheimer's research, the Alzheimer's Association is committed to accelerating the global progress of new treatments, preventions and, ultimately, a cure.