There are steps people can take, however, to help maintain and support their brain health. These activities often help with physical and emotional health and are generally positive habits to foster, especially as people age. In fact, a report from “The Lancet” found the risk of dementia is lower among people who adhere to these healthy habits:
1. Get Physical
According to Harvard Medical School, exercise keeps the brain healthy by helping release chemicals that support the development of new nerve cells and connections between brain cells. Exercise also improves mental health, blood pressure and the regulation of blood sugar, all of which can impact the development of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Staying physically active can become more difficult if someone’s health declines, but doctors and other medical providers can share ways to maintain physical activity even if mobility is limited.
2. Keep Your Brain Active
Engaging in mentally stimulating activities may help keep the brain fit and potentially stave off dementia or other types of cognitive decline. For example, people who have cognitively demanding jobs (like accountants or math teachers) or who engage in cognitively stimulating activities (like learning a second language or how to play a musical instrument) may be at lower risk for developing cognitive decline and dementia, according to Harvard Medical School. Activities like these and more can also decrease feelings of depression, isolation and loneliness, which occur more frequently as people age and are also associated with an increased risk for developing dementia, according to the National Institute on Aging.
3. Track Your Brain Health and Get Help Early
One way to detect changes in brain health is to track memory and other thinking skill performance over time. Detecting changes in memory is critical to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s, which can begin 15-20 years before the onset of obvious symptoms. Some changes in mood or memory that may raise red flags are often noticed by other people, not by the individual experiencing the changes, making it important for older adults who live alone or who do not have large social circles to track their own brain health.
One option for tracking brain health is the Alzheimer Prevention Trials Webstudy, funded by the National Institutes of Health, which monitors an individual’s brain health through regular online memory testing that can be completed anywhere, anytime from a computer, laptop or tablet. Participants take no-cost, online memory tests quarterly that are automatically shared with researchers who track results over time. If changes in memory are detected, and a participant is close enough to a study site, he or she may be invited to an in-person evaluation and, if appropriate, given the option to join an Alzheimer’s clinical trial.
While researchers are working to advance treatments and find a cure for Alzheimer’s, it’s important that people practice healthy brain habits and monitor their brain health as they age to detect any changes in memory as early as possible. Without a cure, taking preventive measures and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are the best defenses against the disease.