Anyone who’s witnessed what happens when someone gets Alzheimer’s disease knows that it’s utterly devastating. To see a previously intelligent, articulate, and active person struggle to read, count change, or be unable to recognize family members is truly heartbreaking. It’s a disease that is feared by most people—as it should be.
However, what’s not widely known is that the abnormal biological processes leading to Alzheimer’s begin decades before the onset of noticeable symptoms. In other words, if someone is diagnosed with it at 65, the disease was already brewing in their 30s or 40s.
OK, enough about the bad news. The good news is that there are actionable steps you can start taking now to protect your brain and minimize your chances of getting Alzheimer’s, even if you carry the gene(s) for it or have other risk factors for dementia.
3 Steps to Avoid Alzheimer’s Disease
The following 3 basic strategies can make a world of difference for how your brain ages as the years pass.
- You need to really care about your brain. It’s what my husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, calls “brain envy.” You’ve got to want to have a better, healthier brain, and getting baseline information about how well your brain is working is a good starting point. While some people go to one of our clinics to their brain scanned, I know not everyone can do that. A good alternative is to ask your doctor to do a memory screening assessment to make sure there aren’t any concerns.
- Avoid the things that hurt your brain. Although you can’t rewind your life and erase the behaviors that were harmful to your brain (i.e. concussions, recreational drugs, binge drinking, etc.), you can choose to correct unhealthy habits, such as these:
- Inadequate sleep. Did you know that people who get less than 6 hours of sleep each night have lower blood flow in their brain and that this negatively impacts how their memory works? If that sounds like you, work on your sleep hygiene so you can log 7-8 hours each night.
- Too much stress. When we’re stressed, we get flooded with the hormone cortisol, which in turn can wreak havoc on the memory centers in our brain. While stress is a normal response to certain life situations, when it’s unchecked and goes on for too long, you’re putting your health in harm’s way. If this is what you’re experiencing, I really encourage you to start a stress management program—STAT! Whether it’s doing yoga regularly, seeing a counselor, daily meditation, or whatever will work for you, be sure to make time for it.
- A sugary diet. Why? Overconsumption of sugar is the leading cause of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other serious medical problems that cause inflammation and lower blood flow to your brain. Areas of the brain with low blood flow can become more vulnerable to diseases like dementia.
- Do the things that help your brain. What’s great about this is that there are so many ways to improve your brain function, starting with these:
- Exercise regularly. It boosts blood flow and feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, lifts your mood, increases energy, and helps with sleep too.
- Include healthy fats in your diet. Science fact: The solid weight (meaning without the water) of the human brain is 60% fat, so we need fat in our diet—but not just any type. Our brain requires healthy fats like essential fatty acids (EFAs). Higher amounts of these are found in chia seeds, walnuts, and flax seeds as well as cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. You can also take an omega-3 supplement. In addition to consuming EFAs, it’s important to eat a healthy, low-sugar, high-fiber diet that includes lots of fresh produce and some lean sources of clean protein.
- Keep learning! When we learn new things, we create new connections in our brain. And the more connections we have, the better fortified our brain is against atrophy and disease. Think of your brain like a muscle—it needs to work out regularly!
Over the years, one of the most important things we discovered through our work at Amen Clinics is that it’s never too late to have a better brain. So, regardless of your age, I hope you’ll take these strategies to heart and make the changes necessary to increase your chances of fending off Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia as you head toward your golden years.
If you’re struggling and need professional help, Amen Clinics is here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.