What can I do so I won't develop Alzheimer's disease?
In the top 10 causes of death in the United States identified by the National Institutes of Health, Alzheimer's disease is the only one that has no cause, prevention or cure.
Dr. Paul Nussbaum, clinical neuropsychologist and author of "Save your Brain," does advocate five domains of a brain healthy lifestyle.
In his presentations, Nussbaum talks about the development and perhaps the delay of Alzheimer's disease based on lifestyle choices. He cited research that has been done at autopsy that shows that there can be evidence of Alzheimer's disease in the brain that has never manifested in memory problems during a person's life. Nussbaum concludes that if you look at a person's life, you might find they had a higher education level or more demanding occupation, or participated in complex and varied activities throughout life, building up a stronger and more "fit" brain and thus, delaying the onset of Alzheimer's.
His five domains of a brain healthy lifestyle include nutrition, exercise, socialization, mental stimulation and spirituality.
Nutrition: Your diet should be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and vegetables, 8 ounces of fish weekly, walnuts and unsalted nuts and fewer processed foods. Nussbaum recommended eating 80 percent of what you intend to at each meal and to eat with utensils. You will not only eat less, he said, but also pay more attention to eating healthier foods.
Exercise: Some form of aerobic exercise will help the heart and feed the brain with oxygen. It also promotes cognitive functioning, such as memory, and is now believed to relate to positive structural changes in the brain. Nussbaum recommended walking six miles weekly, dancing, gardening, biking and hiking.
Socialization: Maintain your social circle, building friendships and family relationships. Stay involved in clubs and community organizations. Wait longer to retire. Socialization, not isolation, may stave off Alzheimer's disease.
Mental stimulation: Keep the brain active. Learn a second language. Take up a new hobby. Learn to play a musical instrument. Read. Write. Do things with your nondominant hand. Play board games. Travel. Keep the mind active as much as possible.
Spirituality: Slow down your hurried life. Meditate and practice relaxation procedures with deep breathing and muscle relaxation. Praying on a daily basis can enhance your immune system. Participate in regular worship. Identify what your stressors are and how they affect you and identify ways to handle them. In a society where everyone feels they have to constantly multitask, don't be afraid to say, "no."
As scientists continue research on Alzheimer's disease and learn more about its possible causes, research may also reveal how to prevent the disease and how to develop drugs to prevent damage to the nerve cells in the brain. The cause or causes of Alzheimer's disease most likely include a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, and any of these factors could increase or decrease the risk of developing the disease.
While the "use it or lose it" approach of a brain healthy lifestyle has not been clinically proven, no harm can come from regularly putting your brain to work.