Odds are you know someone who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, the irreversible brain disorder that affects more than 5 million Americans. And that number will only increase as the baby-boomer generation is crossing into the age range associated with developing this devastating disease. But it's not hopeless. There are things you can do to improve your brain fitness and prevent brain drain.
Unfortunately, while we can trace brain-cell failure back to some basic risk factors -- some preventable, some unavoidable -- leading experts still have not pinpointed exactly what causes brain cells to fail. So instead of having clear answers as to why degenerative brain failure attacks seemingly healthy people, we have strong clues and theories about what we can do to help prevent Alzheimer's, especially if we are at risk.
Promote a healthy brain. There is plenty of sound science indicating what you can do to ensure your brain is getting everything it needs to serve as your body's command center.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish feeds brain cells and helps to keep oxygen flowing into them. On the other hand, anything contributing to poor circulation can be damaging to brain health, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Addressing these risk factors and getting them under good control is a first line of defense against Alzheimer's.
Be aware of your built-in risk factors. Your risk for Alzheimer's increases with age and the prevalence of the disease in your family. Age is considered the strongest risk factor. According to an often cited Bronx Aging Study published in the journal Neurology, the risk of developing the disease increases twofold every five years beginning at age 65. By age 85, individuals have a 50 percent chance of having the disease, on some level. Moreover, individuals with a first-degree relative with Alzheimer's have a 10 percent to 30 percent increased risk of developing the disease. When diseases tend to run in families, both genetic and environmental factors are probably playing a role. Keep in touch with the world around you. Many people over 65 show no age-related decline in their mental performance. These seniors all share healthy habits and traits, including: regular exercise (at least once per week), playing games and doing puzzles (so-called "Neurorobics" to keep their minds nimble), and staying involved with their communities (through part-time work, volunteering, socializing, or simply living with another individual). In the book "Keep Your Brain Alive," authors Lawrence C. Katz and Manning Rubin point out that the best way to stimulate the brain is through experiences that involve as many of the physical senses as possible: vision, touch, smell, taste, hearing, and even emotions.
Remember, occasional everyday forgetfulness -- such as stumbling over a name, misplacing car keys, or forgetting what you were looking for -- does not necessarily indicate early Alzheimer's disease. By knowing your risk factors and doing everything you can to keep your body and brain healthy, you are well on the road to making -- and retaining -- healthy memories long into life. Dr. Leon Spiers is a physician with PartnerMD, a Richmond, Va.-based medical practice specializing in concierge-style primary care and executive physicals. To learn more, call (804) 237-8282, e-mail RichmondInfo@partnermd.com or visit www.partnermd.com. Related articles... FDA Panel OKs Crestor Cholesterol Pill's Wider UseCholesterol Lowering Diet & FoodsFlaxseed May Lower Cholesterol Levels