Don’t worry, be happy and 8 other ways to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s

BY Jason Kane  January 9, 2014 at 11:45 AM EDT
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Lorenzo Brunato, 80, suffers from early stages of dementia, but he enjoys a friendly game of Bingo with other people who are experiencing the same ailment. Doctors say there are a number of steps, like socializing regularly, that can be taken to reduce the risk factors of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Photo by Vince Talotta/Toronto Star

When Jamie Tyrone found out she had a 91 percent genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, she saw only two paths ahead of her — live in fear of the debilitating dementia, or do everything she could to stave it off.

Tyrone chose the latter, and five years later, she is practically a celebrity at The Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Arizona, where researchers hope to someday prevent onset of the brain disease.

“My life was changed when I was given this information,” Tyrone said, “so I will do whatever it takes.”

Tyrone has volunteered for a biomarker study at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. The study will help scientists track the development of the disease.

Jamie Tyrone, right, participates in a study to help scientists track the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Dan Caston/PBS NewsHour

“They need research subjects and I feel it’s part of my moral duty,” Tyrone said.

The research is part of a major new initiative at the institute to shift the focus from years of disappointing drug trials aimed at treating the disease toward new trials designed to prevent its onset.

“Our strategy is: Let’s focus on people who are at very high risk,” said director Dr. Pierre Tariot. “If the treatment works, we’ll be able to see a slowing of the emergence of the disease that would otherwise be inevitable.”

Only 2 to 4 percent of the population has a 91 percent lifetime risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s.

In the hopes of attracting volunteers for the study, the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute has created an online registry.

“There’s a number of different prevention studies that need to take place,” said Banner’s Jessica Langbaum. “It can be as simple as answering an online survey, coming in to be tested, or it could be participating in a clinical trial.”

Jamie Tyrone is putting her own stamp on advancing research. She has founded B.A.B.E.S, an acronym for Beating Alzheimer’s by Embracing Science.

“We’re an all-volunteer organization, and the money we raise will go towards the most promising areas in research,” said Tyrone.

On Monday evening’s broadcast, PBS NewsHour profiled the recent research shift from treatment to prevention. Watch the full segment here:

Below, check out some lifestyles changes you can make to reduce the risk factors of Alzheimer’s, courtesy of Carol Steinberg, president of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.


10 Tips for Reducing Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease, According to Carol Steinberg


1. Make a healthy lifestyle a way of life

While it’s best to start young and continue on with healthy lifestyle habits, adapting successful aging strategies at any age — even late in life — is a smart move. Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center in Los Angeles, and a member of AFA’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, studied this concept with the help of the RAND Corporation, and estimated that there might be one million fewer cases of Alzheimer’s disease than anticipated within five years if everyone in the United States adopted just one healthy brain lifestyle. The rule of thumb: What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

2. Get checked — regularly

Evidence continues to mount that several health conditions, including diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and metabolic syndrome, are linked to Alzheimer’s disease — so it’s important to control these risk factors. It helps to know your family health history, especially regarding these conditions; the U.S. Surgeon General’s office provides a tool to construct a family portrait.

Be regimented about having an annual physical exam, and make sure your clinician checks your brain as well as your body. One of you should bring up the word “memory.” It’s critical to be proactive on this front, since clinicians miss 25 to 90 percent of cases of dementia. If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, take advantage of the various preventive screenings — including detection of cognitive impairment — that are part of the new Medicare Annual Wellness Exam. And follow doctors’ orders.

3. You are what you eat

Since obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, high cholesterol and other conditions that can trigger Alzheimer’s disease, keep your weight and body mass in check. It’s not only about how much you eat, but what you are eating. Choosing the right foods can lower cell damage. Strive for a balanced diet, chock full of foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines and nuts; and a rainbow array of antioxidant fruits and vegetables, including leafy green vegetables. Your banned list should include foods such as red meats, processed foods, saturated fats and added sugars.

4. Get moving

From a successful aging vantage point, physical activity serves multiple purposes, including staying trim and de-stressing. Regular exercise can keep blood flowing to your brain to rejuvenate and even replenish brain cells. Ideally, take a brisk 30-minute walk each day. Consider other aerobic exercises like jogging or kickboxing.

5. Exercise your brain

The brain has the ability to create new neurons, so use it. Brain boosters can include puzzles, online games and reading. Learn something new, from attempting a foreign language or musical instrument to even brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand.

6. One is the loneliest number

People who regularly socialize are much less likely to experience cognitive decline when compared to those who are lonely or isolated, according to the latest research. Stay connected with friends, volunteer and join social clubs or special interest groups. Better yet, punch up the power of mental and physical activities by adding a social component. For example, read the newspaper and then discuss current events with a friend; go to a museum with a companion and critique the collection together; or check out SilverSneakers, a fun, energizing program — available through some Medicare plans — that encourages physical activity and offers social engagement.

7. Feed your soul

In addition to physical fitness and mental fitness, add spiritual fitness to your regular schedule of activities. Chronic stress is a major health hazard that ups the risk for various illnesses, including depression and weight gain, which can boost the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

One study found that relaxed individuals had a 50 percent less chance of developing dementia than those who were overanxious and socially isolated. Manage stress by getting a massage, using aromatherapy, meditating, practicing yoga, journaling, praying and even sneaking into a quiet, private space every now and then.

8. Control vices

Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption. On the latter, some studies show the brain- health benefits of red wine. But the key, as always, is moderation. According to Dr. Richard E. Powers, a member of AFA’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Board, alcohol consumption should be limited to one ounce a day — and zero for people with dementia. Prolonged and excessive drinking of alcohol can cause alcohol-related dementia, one of the most common types of dementia in older adults.

9. Safeguard your environment

More and more research indicates that certain moderate to severe head injuries and repeated concussions may increase the risk of developing dementia later in life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury for all ages, and of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults. One out of three people aged 65 or older falls each year. So clear the clutter, fix uneven walkways, install banisters, add grab bars near bathroom fixtures, remove scatter rugs and improve lighting.

10. Get an attitude adjustment

Do you see the cup as half empty or half full? It helps to view life from a positive perspective. Laughter, compassion and happiness can feed the soul. And, as the saying goes, “Dance like there’s nobody watching.”


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