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Can Alzheimer's Disease Really Be Prevented?

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Updated January 28, 2009

Photo © Pam Stephan Photo © Pam Stephan
Question: Can Alzheimer's Disease Really Be Prevented?
Answer: When discussing the prevention of Alzheimer's, it's important to remember that there is no “vaccine” against the disease, nor is it guaranteed that prevention strategies will work. Still, scientific evidence indicates that how we live our lives really does make a difference in how likely we are to develop Alzheimer's or a related dementia.

Some people with a family history of Alzheimer's won't develop the disease, while others with no family history will develop Alzheimer's. This suggests that Alzheimer's is not totally controlled by genetics; therefore, lifestyle and other factors most likely play an important role in our risk for developing the disease.

Prevention involves making healthy lifestyle choices in four areas:

  • Diet and Nutrition -- A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids helps keep the brain healthy.
  • Physical Exercise -- A regular exercise program,, including both cardiovascular activity and strength training, enhances brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain.
  • Mental Exercise -- Keeping the mind active by learning and trying new things can actually create new connections between nerve cells in the brain.
  • Social Interaction -- Connecting with others stimulates parts of the brain that aren't used when we're isolated or alone.

In particular, research suggests that reducing our risk for heart disease and diabetes can also reduce our risk for Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

Preventing Alzheimer's is really about risk reduction. Even though we can't totally protect ourselves against Alzheimer's, isn't it worth reducing our risk as much as possible? Most likely, we'll also improve our overall health and quality of life along the way.

Sources:

Brain health. Alzheimer's Association. October 18, 2007. http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_brain_health_maintain_your_brain.asp

Shankle, W. R., & Amen, D. G. 2004 Preventing Alzheimer's: Ways to help prevent, delay, detect, and even halt Alzheimer's disease and other forms of memory loss. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

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