How to Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates recently donated $50 million to Alzheimer’s research in the hope that a cure can be found within our lifetime. Gates said, “It’s a terrible disease that devastates both those who have it and their loved ones,”.  He should know, as he has had relatives who have suffered from and succumbed to the disease.

His donation is going to the Dementia Discovery Fund.  A private-public organization that consists of a team of neuroscientists and field experts devoted to dementia research. The DDF has offices in England and the United States and collaborates with the major drug companies and other research institutions.

What Exactly is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Synapse in the Brain
The synapse is the space between the neural connectors

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia in humans and was first described in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer.

It is the result of amyloid plaque buildup between synapses. Synapses are the spaces between the connection of the neurons. It is these connections between neurons that form our cognitive process and maintain our memory.

Under normal circumstances, the plaque dissipates and our brain continues to process our thought patterns as they normally would, but as we age, the plaque can stubbornly remain between the synapses; subsequently, it will interfere with cognitive functionality and memory becomes one of those brain functions that is affected. Amyloid protein is toxic to neurons and if not removed, it can eventually cause their death. The loss of neurons is called brain atrophy and loss of memory is one of the consequences.

What Can Be Done to Avoid Amyloid Plaque Buildup Between Synapses?

The Neural Network in the Human Brain
The primary objective is to avoid the protein buildup between synapses. Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, we can take some precautionary actions that will help in the fight against stubborn plaque that won’t go away.

Can Drugs Help?

Today it affects almost 36 million people with scientists working hard to find ways to prevent, treat and cure this debilitating illness. Recent studies have shown that gene mutations play a role in the disease. In the last 20 years, progress has appeared hopeful. The FDA approved the first Alzheimer’s combo drug Namzaric in 2014 and an array of other drugs are currently in development; however, more research needs to be done before it is proven that these drugs are actually helping.

Sleep Well

Studies have shown that Good sleep habits are a primary booster for keeping the area between the neural connections clean, so make sure you get the recommended amount of eight hours per night. If you have trouble sleeping, see the advice of your medical professional, because not only can poor sleep habits weaken the neural network, but can have adverse effects on your daily activities, such as driving and working on machinery. In addition, lack of sleep slows down the process of healing from any ailments you may have. Bottom line: Good sleep helps to rejuvenate your body and mind.

Exercise

A cure-all for almost every disease. Exercise keeps the blood running and strengthens just above every organ in the body. There are so many benefits to frequent exercise, it is beyond the scope of this article to get detailed. For this blog, let’s focus on the fact that proper exercise will help keep your neural network strong.

How About Some Mediterranean Food?

Consider a Mediterranean diet – Great for the heart and when the heart is healthy, so is the brain!. Specifically, if you have heart ailments, make sure you are under the proper medical care and proper medication. Proper care of the heart helps not just the heart but also helps reduce the amount of plaque that could build up in the synapses.

Learn new things

Not just crossword puzzles, as you are just refreshing what you already know. Better to learn something that you have not known before. This allows new neural connections to be created, which is a healthy ‘food’ for your brain. Adding mentally stimulating activities in any form of learning is advantageous.

There is a case of one 62-year-old man who decided to pick up where he left off in math studies when he was in college so many years ago. He found an online course in Linear Algebra and managed through it with steadfast determination. He was successful and felt a great sense of accomplishment, but what went unnoticed was the addition of millions of new neurons that were created during his studies. A great model for the rest of us regarding how to keep our mind healthy!

Yoga Anyone?

An additional lifestyle change that can be beneficial for brain health and to reduce dementia risk is yoga. A recent study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that a 3-month yoga and meditation course may reduce older adults’ risk of mild cognitive impairment. The study was led by Dr. Helen Lavretsky from UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry. Her team found that participants who practiced yoga and meditation showed greater improvement in visual-spatial memory skills than the group that only participated in memory enhancement training.

The yoga-meditation group also did better with coping skills, stress resilience and levels of anxiety and depression. After the participant’s brain activity was assessed, the researchers found that there were improvements in the verbal memory and visual-spatial memory that correlated with change in brain connectivity.

These changes are important to note since mild cognitive impairment (MCI) has no currently approved medications to treat it. MCI can also worsen over time and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia-related diseases, therefore risk reduction is important in adults over the age of 65.

Studies have shown that drinking a few cups of coffee a day are have proven to be good for the brain. A review of evidence found that moderate coffee consumption, between three to five cups a day, may reduce Alzheimer’s risk by up to 20 percent.

If you want to help find a cure for this devasting disease, contact the Dementia Discovery Fund or the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Sleep well, eat well and healthy, exercise, try yoga and meditation and don’t forget your daily coffee! 

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