Lifestyle Changes May Guard Aging Brain Against Memory Loss

Hula-hoopThe latest Alzheimer’s research has a clear theme: Change your lifestyle to protect your brain. Whatever happens on the drug front, and it may take several more years before a drug is developed, there are generally healthy everyday steps people can take that research suggests just might lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. Making these lifestyle changes “looks more promising than the drug studies so far,” said Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

GET BETTER SLEEP QUALITY

Studies of more than 6,000 people linked poor sleep quality — and especially sleep apnea — to early memory problems called mild cognitive impairment, which in turn can raise the risk of later Alzheimer’s or can spur a brain-clogging protein named amyloid that’s a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Sleep disorders are so common, and many are quite treatable.

EXERCISE YOUR GRAY MATTER

Seniors often are advised to work crossword puzzles, take music lessons or learn a new language to keep the brain engaged. In Sweden, researchers at the Karolinska Institute unearthed school report cards and work histories of more than 7,000 older adults, where they discovered that learning and complex thinking strengthen connections between nerve cells, building up “cognitive reserve” so that as Alzheimer’s brews, the brain can withstand more damage before symptoms become apparent.

GET MOVING

maxresdefaultWhat’s good for the heart is good for the brain, too, and physical activity counters a list of damaging problems — high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol — that can increase the risk of memory impairment later in life. One study tracked the habits of 3,200 young adults for 25 years, and found those who were the least active had the worst cognition when they were middle-aged.

DON’T FORGET MENTAL HEALTH

Type-2-diabetes-preventionHarvard researchers found loneliness are accelerating cognitive decline in a study that tracked more than 8,000 seniors for over a decade. It’s not just experiencing stress but how we cope with it. One study found seniors with the poorest coping skills were much more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment over nearly four years than seniors who could shrug off the stress.

EAT HEALTHY

Diets high in fruits and vegetables and lower in fat and sugar are good for the arteries that keep blood flowing to the brain. Type 2 diabetes, the kind linked to excess weight, raises the risk of dementia later in life. Lipton’s lab recently found a healthy diet lowered seniors’ risk of impaired “executive function” as they got older — how the brain pays attention, organizes and multitasks.

LAURAN NEERGAARD

The Seattle Times

24 July 2015