Healthnotes April 2014



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Alzheimer's on the Rise: What You Can Do

Alzheimer’s disease appears to be a leading cause of death in the US, just behind heart disease and cancer, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology. The study, conducted at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, found that Alzheimer’s disease is underreported as a cause of death. Of the more than 2,500 seniors followed in the study, almost a quarter developed the disease, and it was the cause of death in about 400 people.

Take steps to stay sharp

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that leads people to gradually lose memory and the ability to function and take care of themselves. While the cause is not known, the problem appears to involve abnormal breakdown of an important neurotransmitter in the brain.

News like this is a great reminder of the importance of taking steps to keep your brain healthy. Fortunately, there are plenty of safe measures that previous research has found may help prevent memory loss and dementia:

  • Get active. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline, keeping the mind strong. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity five or more days per week.
  • Challenge your brain. Mental activities like puzzles and games, taking new classes, and traveling to new places all appear to prevent memory loss and general cognitive decline with age.
  • Eat the right fats. Eating more monounsaturated fats—like those found in olive oil, avocados, walnuts, and almonds—and fewer saturated fats—like those found in red meat and full-fat dairy products—may help reduce risk.
  • Be colorful. Brightly colored fruits, especially berries, contain powerful antioxidants that protect against many diseases and support functions in the body and brain.
  • Go Mediterranean. Studies have found that a Mediterranean-style diet based on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish is good for protecting the aging brain.
  • Supplement smartly. A balanced diet is best, but not always practical. While studies are still determining which supplements are most effective for Alzheimer’s disease, nutrients like acetyl-L-carnitine and herbs such as ginkgo show promise. Omega-3 fats and antioxidants also show protective effects for the brain and general health in some studies.
  • Maintain your friendships. Staying socially active might protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Consider becoming a regular at your local community or senior center, volunteering, joining a social group, or getting to know your neighbors better. Visit with someone every day.

(Neurology 2014; Study accessed online before print March 5: doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000240)

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