May 12, 2022
More than 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million. Fortunately, there is growing evidence that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
For those of us with aging parents or loved ones, June’s Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month presents a timely opportunity to learn about the cognitive benefits associated with making physical, mental and social health a top priority.
“We know, based on growing scientific research, when individuals make healthy lifestyle choices – combining healthy behaviors for diet, exercise, socialization and sleep – they may reduce their risk of cognitive decline. Whether you have an aging parent or family member, or you want to take steps to maintain your own wellbeing, practicing healthy habits is key.” – Melanie Smith, Director of Care & Support, Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter.
Practicing the following habits—and incorporating these other tips for living well —can help you or your loved one remain sharp and healthy throughout the aging process.
Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise elevates heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, taking a class at a local college, community center or online.
Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke—obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes—negatively impact cognitive health. Regular visits to the doctor’s office will ensure that one is routinely monitored to ensure weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are within healthy ranges.
A healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.
Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment for symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Stress management is also important.
Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Each of us should pursue social activities that are meaningful. Find ways to be part of the local community—if one loves animals, volunteering at a local shelter would be a great activity; if one enjoys singing, joining a local choir or helping at an after-school program is a good idea. Attending activities with friends and family are also great opportunities for social engagement.
The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia—by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or another dementia, resources, support and information are available from the Alzheimer’s Association Delaware Valley Chapter. You can also call the Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.