Surveys have shown that regardless of age there is nothing that Americans fear more than Alzheimer’s dementia – not cancer, a heart attack, a stroke, or even death.
If diagnosed with the disease, 68% of people surveyed fear the inability to care for themselves or becoming a burden to others, the other 32% fear losing their memory, especially the memories and experiences with loved ones.
For most of us, losing our self or personhood, or the characteristics which make you so individually you, is a fate worse than death.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Named after Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the condition in 1906, Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the function of the brain by causing the brain cells to degenerate and then die. There is no cure, and the progression of the disease leads to eventual death. The first symptoms of the disease usually show up as forgetfulness, but as it worsens, more long-term memory loss occurs, along with other symptoms such as mood swings, irritability and inability to recognize languages.
How Prevalent is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s affects more than 5.3 million Americans, and it is predicted that by 2050, 1 in 8 Americans will be stricken with it. Due to the incredible duration and slow progression of disease for some diagnosed at an early age, the Medicare system spends three times as much money on Alzheimer’s treatment as it does on any other disease.
Is Alzheimer’s disease inevitable?
Because of the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in our country, many people view it as a normal and inevitable part of the aging process. But this is not so. in spite of it being so common in America, there are societies in which dementia and Alzheimer’s is incredibly rare, even for people in their 90’s and beyond. The elders in these cultures maintain clear thinking without the burden of dementia that we have come to mistakenly associate with aging.
Alzheimer’s is a disease, and it is not necessarily your fate to develop this disease, even if others in your family have.
Through the study of epigenetics, or how your internal and external environment influences expression of your genes, it is known that your lifestyle (and how healthy it is) will have a huge impact on what happens to your genes. Meaning that even if you were genetically more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, controlling and creating a healthy environment in and around your body could prevent development of the disease.
How can you reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s?
By building the following 6 pillars into your lifestyle you can drastically reduce your chances of Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Physical exercise
In his book, Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples, John Robbins cites study after study that demonstrate the stunning effect of exercise on the brain’s ability to function well, even at advanced ages.
In one such study, documented in the Archives of Neurology (March 2001), it was found that the people with the highest activity levels were only half as likely as inactive people to develop Alzheimer’s. Further, these active people were also substantially less likely to develop any form of dementia or impairment in mental functioning.
In another study, mice were bred to develop the type of plaque in their brains that is associated with Alzheimer’s. Some of the mice were allowed to exercise and some were not.
Two important findings emerged:
- The mice who exercised developed 50-80 percent less plaque in their brains than the non-exercising mice
- The exercising mice produced more of an enzyme known to prevent the buildup of plaque in the brain.
- Conclusion? While you are not a mouse, other evidence has shown that people who exercise more are much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or any other kind of dementia.
2. A brain-healthy diet
Your nutrition plays a critical role in every aspect of your health. The best diet for preventing dementia is one low in animal-derived foods but high in plant foods:
• fresh vegetables of all types
• fresh fruit
• nuts, seeds, legumes
• wild-caught fish or free-range poultry were best sources of meat if included in the diet
Scientists think that the protection these foods offer against dementia stems from their high concentration of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants neutralize free radicals, which are in part responsible for the damage that causes dementia.
A healthy diet also helps you avoid other health problems such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and arteriosclerosis.
In another study cited by Robbins, researchers found that persons who are obese in middle age are twice as likely to develop dementia in their later years as those people who had normal weights. Further, if these people also have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, their risk for dementia in old age escalates to six times higher than normal weight people!
The other 4 pillars of an “Alzheimer’s prevention lifestyle” action plan:
1. Mental stimulation
2. Quality sleep
3. Stress management
4. An active social life
What are you waiting for?
Remember, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Prevention is the key. Once symptoms start showing up it may be too late. Start now to defend yourself against this “fate-worse-than-death” disease: get moving and eat a clean, healthy diet. You will reap the benefits literally for years to come!
Committed to your health and protecting your memories,