Share on Facebook

13 Things Neurologists Do to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's disease has no cure, but ongoing research shows promise for reducing the risk and delaying the onset of this neurodegenerative disorder

Understand Alzheimer’s disease

 

Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for approximately 80 percent of dementia cases and affecting more than 5.5 million people in the United States. But all dementia is not Alzheimer’s, says David Knopman, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota, and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. Dementia is a general term used to describe a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, or language. Alzheimer’s is a physical disease that targets the brain, causing problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It is also age-related (symptoms usually start at age 65) and progressive as symptoms usually develop slowly and worsen over time. Research shows that plaques and tangles, two proteins that build up and block connections between nerve cells and eventually damage and kill nerve cells in the brain, cause the symptoms of the disease. Learn more about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Top view of of charming middle aged woman with red brown hair in sleepwear slowly wake up in the bed. Iryna Inshyna/Shutterstock

Get enough sleep

When you toss and turn all night, levels of brain-damaging proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid can rise: A 2017 study in Brain suggests that those with chronic sleep problems during middle age may increase their risk of Alzheimer’s later in life. “You have to commit to the importance of sleep,” says Gayatri Devi, MD, neurologist, clinical professor of neurology, Downstate Medical Center. “I prioritize sleep as one of the most important activities I do—I will leave a party early in order to get a good night’s sleep.”

Senior friends with wine glasses at Christmas time.Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Stay socially active

Say yes to those social invitations! A 2019 study published in PLOS Medicine found that social activity with friends in your 60s could lower your risk of dementia by 12 percent. “There is something intrinsically valuable about social engagement,” says Dr. Knopman. “It makes sense that those who are more engaged, especially socially, will think more positively and have a better outlook on life.”

Man reading a book and writing notes on wooden table on sunset.kikovic/Shutterstock

Keep learning

People with advanced degrees have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, according to 2017 research published in the BMJ. Education seems to build a “cognitive reserve,” which enables the brain to better resist neurological damage. “Higher education has a powerful effect,” says Dr. Knopman. It’s never too late—check out the continuing education courses offered online or near you.

Mature couple doing internet researchDmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Learn a second language

Speaking more than one language can protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, according to 2017 research published in Clinical Interventions in Aging. While no one is sure why a second language helps so much, Dr. Knopman theorizes that the effort to communicate bilingually is like a workout for the brain, helping preserve gray matter and neurons. If learning another language isn’t something you’re up for, you could opt for any of these 50 everyday habits that reduce your risk of dementia.

Mechanic serviceman repairman installing assembling or adjusting bicycle gear on wheel in workshopDmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

Do it yourself

Challenging your brain in new ways can enhance memory as you age. Dr. Devi has her own take on this: “If there is a problem with the phone or the plumbing, I will try to fix it,” she says. “If I try to figure out how to fix this on my own, it is good for my brain.” Right now she’s designing and building a window seat. “It is a way to keep different parts of my brain thriving.” Here are 8 other brain-boosting activities.

Active seniors running outside in green natureHalfpoint/Shutterstock

Stay active

Exercise crucial to your wellness and your brain. Research published in Cureus in 2020, found that people who exercise regularly can slow cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the combined results of 11 studies indicate that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent; it drops the risk of Alzheimer’s by 45 percent. “When you are physically active, you burn more calories and you’re less likely to be obese,” explains Dr. Knopman. “You’ll have better cardiovascular health because you are pushing your heart rate.”

Electrocardiogram, ecg in hand, palm of a doctor. Medical health care. Clinic cardiology heart rhythm and pulse test closeup. Cardiogram printout. funnyangel/Shutterstock

Take care of your heart

“What is good for the heart is good for the brain,” says Dr. Devi. Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, may also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and a 2017 study in JAMA found that middle-aged people with risk factors for heart attacks and stroke are also more likely to develop changes in the brain that can lead to the disease. “Anything that keeps the heart healthy is directly related to brain health,” Dr. Devi says. It also reduces the risk of stroke, which can cause it’s own kind of dementia—vascular dementia.

Beautiful sad senior woman is leaning on her hand and looking downward while sitting on couch at homeGeorge Rudy/Shutterstock

Lower your stress levels

Persistent stress can take a toll on the brain, and 2018 research published in Neurobiology of Stress indicates that chronic stress can accelerate Alzheimer’s disease. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone linked to memory trouble. In addition, experts have found that stress can lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety—which also ups the risk for dementia, according to research in Current Opinion in Psychiatry. “Eliminating stress helps reduce the amount of cortisol and optimizes glucose utilization, which your brain needs for food,” says Dr. Devi.

Traditional tapas served for share with friends in restaurant or bar.marcin jucha/Shutterstock

Try the MIND diet

A combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, the MIND diet is designed specifically for brain health. (MIND is short for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.) The diet is pretty pleasant: You eat at least three servings of whole grains a day, two portions of vegetables (one of which must be a leafy green), snack on nuts, eat lean proteins like chicken and fish, berries, and have a glass of wine a day. According to research in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, those who adhered to the diet rigorously were able to lower their risk of cognitive decline later in life. You can’t trust all diets, warns Dr. Knopman, but he likes this approach: “I tell my patients that if you follow a reasonable diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetable that balances different food groups, and avoid obesity, you will be OK.” Be sure to include the best foods for your brain, too.

Young woman asleep peacefully in her bed one morningicsnaps/Shutterstock

Get your snoring checked out

Another way to wreck your sleep without realizing it is with sleep apnea. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep apnea occurs when a person’s upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow. Many factors—from obesity to large tonsils to neuromuscular disorders—can cause sleep apnea. Sleep apnea not only prevents restful sleep, but untreated it can increase the risk of developing certain health conditions. “If left untreated, sleep apnea has significant cardiovascular consequences and consequences of mental function,” says Dr. Knopman. Research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2017 also links sleep apnea to the accumulation of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment may save your brain, not to mention your life.

Full length side view of a young man cycling past brick wallsirtravelalot/Shutterstock

Protect your head

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there is a strong link between serious head trauma and developing Alzheimer’s later in life, especially if the injury involves loss of consciousness. A 2017 review of research in PLOS One suggests head injuries that require medical attention may increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Wear a helmet while cycling, make your home fall-proof, and always use a seat belt to help protect your noggin. Make sure you know the signs that you need to go to the ER after a head injury.

Young ill woman with cup of hot tea at home, closeupAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Have some tea

Green tea has loads of health benefits—including some for your brain. A 2019 systematic review in Nutrients found that green tea might reduce the risk of dementia. And research in the Journal of the American Chemical Society found that it’s a compound in the beverage that can disrupt the formation of toxic plaques that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Now that you know what neurologists do, check out what else you can do to slow down Alzheimer’s disease.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Renata Chalfin, MD, on April 14, 2020

Kim Fredericks
Kim Fredericks is a freelance writer, content specialist, and editor with 20 years experience covering fitness, travel, hotels, design, real estate, and luxury lifestyle topics for major publications and web sites such as the Robb Report, Luxury magazine, Reader's Digest, and Oyster. Kim earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and English from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and a Masters in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston. She is an avid skier, golfer, and outdoor enthusiast. She lives in the NYC Metro area with her husband Victor and Rocky the Jack Russell. Visit her website: Kim Fredericks.