How I'm Mitigating My Chances of Getting Alzheimer's Disease

alzheimer's disease Feb 10, 2021
My Mom and Me

My Mom is the best in the world and is now a 3-year-old trapped in a 74-year-old body.

It’s because of her and my Dad that I’m here writing these words.

My Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in early 2018 but started showing signs of the illness in 2017.

Mom’s mother died from Alzheimer’s in June 2014.

If you aren’t aware, Alzheimer’s “is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” (Alzheimer’s Association)

To say I miss my pre-Alzheimer Mom terribly would be the understatement of the decade.

Shortly after Mom’s diagnosis, I had the opportunity to speak with her neuropsychologist.

I can still recall the conversation as if it happened yesterday. I asked him, “Is there anything I can do to mitigate my chances of getting Alzheimer’s?

To which he replied, “While there are no guarantees, we’ve been telling people for years, diet and exercise, diet and exercise, diet and exercise.”

After this encouraging phone call, I did more research and continue to be a student of Alzheimer’s.

Here’s what I learned and what I’m doing as a result.

Please note: I am not a doctor or any other type of medically-trained person. I’m just reporting what I’ve learned. Please do your own research.

Exercise often

On August 29, 2017, I began my run-every-day streak after hurricane Harvey finished dumping 51" of rain on the Houston area. Check out my article, What I’ve Learned From Running Every Day Since August 29, 2017, for the full story.

And I’ve not stopped.

But you don’t have to run. Just elevate your heart rate; break into a sweat. If you’ve not done this in a while, please check with your doctor first.

Why this works: “It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It aids the release of hormones, which provide an excellent environment for the growth of brain cells. Exercise also promotes brain plasticity by stimulating the growth of new connections between cells in many important cortical areas of the brain.” (Scientific American)

What you can do: run, brisk walk, swim, ride a bike, walk on a treadmill, dance, or anything else that will elevate your heart rate.

Drink a lot of water

Did you know that your body comprises approximately 60% water and that your blood is 90%?

Water is essential not only to keep you hydrated, but it’s great for brain health too.

According to PrimoWater, “Drinking water increases the brain’s temperature and eliminates toxins and dead cells. It also keeps cells active and balances chemical processes in the brain, helping to regulate stress and anxiety.”

Aim to drink half your weight in ounces of water every day.

Reduce your intake of added sugar

WebMD says, “Less added sugar could lower those levels and may help stop weight gain and fat buildup linked to heart disease. If you get more than 20% of your calories from added sugar — even if you’re at a healthy weight — you may be able to lower your heart disease risk when you cut back.”

While this doesn’t directly affect brain health (well, if your heart stops, it will), I’ve decided to do this as part of my overall health regimen.

What you can do: read the label! Added sugar is present in so many foods you’d be amazed. Don’t assume. Read the dang label!

Some of what I eat: fruits, vegetables/salads, LaraBars, Muscle Milk, Kroger’s CarbMaster Yogurt, No Sugar Added Klondike bars, and more.

I know, I know. These aren’t the best choices for optimal health, but I’m a work in progress.

Get plenty of sleep

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says, “Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep. Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.”

Strive to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep EVERY night (to be clear, that means 7 days a week). Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day.

To read more about sleep, check out this article I wrote on Medium, We’re in a Sleep Recession.

Learn a new language and read a lot

Your muscles, lungs, and heart get exercised when you, well, exercise.

But what about the brain? Bilingualism!

According to Knowable Magazine, “The first main advantage (of being bilingual) involves what’s loosely referred to as executive function. This describes skills that allow you to control, direct and manage your attention, as well as your ability to plan. It also helps you ignore irrelevant information and focus on what’s important. Because a bilingual person has a mastery of two languages, and the languages are activated automatically and subconsciously, the person is constantly managing the interference of the languages so that she or he doesn’t say the wrong word in the wrong language at the wrong time.”

Also, make it a priority to read for at least an hour a day (which is so much better than surfing social media, email, or watching the news!). Read books that will stretch you. Translation: books where you have to slow down to get the concepts and maybe even look up words!

I’m currently learning to speak French via Duolingo. Perhaps one of these days, Je parle et j’ecrit francais!

No guarantees

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s as of today.

But there is plenty you can do to mitigate your chances of getting it…even if it runs in your family.

Which of these things are you doing regularly?

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thank you for reading it. 

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