Prevention

What’s in the Pipeline

There is no known way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), along with pharmaceutical companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations, are all involved with research aimed to slow, delay, and prevent AD. These include: 

  • cognitive training
  • antioxidants (e.g., Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene)
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • DHA supplementation
  • hormones, type-2 diabetes treatments (insulin seems to play a role in AD)
  • exercise
  • cardiovascular treatments.

One promising trial is an ongoing vaccine study that involves 10,000 volunteers around the globe. The vaccine is known as the “bapineuzumab jab.” While not a cure, the vaccine has shown to prevent, and even reverse, the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain. Amyloid plaques are a hallmark of AD. But it is not clear whether the plaques are a cause, or result of, Alzheimer’s disease.

What You Can Do Now

You can take steps to reduce your risk and manage AD symptoms. Here are some examples:  

Diet

Some evidence suggests a Mediterranean diet may decrease your risk of developing AD. This diet includes little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, nuts, olive oil, and other healthy fats.

Other studies suggest antioxidants from food affect age-related changes in the brain. For example, blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries can improve cognitive function in rats and mice. This includes both during normal aging and in animals that develop AD. 

Another study examined curcumin, the main ingredient of turmeric—a yellowish spice used in curry and a powerful antioxidant. It found curcumin can suppress the build-up of harmful amyloid plaques in the brains of rodents.

Mental Exercise

An active brain can reduce your AD risk, according to the Religious Orders Study. Here, more than 700 people—older nuns, priests, and religious brothers—described how much time they spent in various information-processing activities. These included listening to the radio, reading newspapers, playing puzzle games, and visiting museums.

After four years, those who performed those activities the most reduced their risk of developing AD by 47 percent on average.

Other studies have found those who pursue higher levels of education hold onto their ability to think and reason.

Engaging in mental exercise seems to create or contribute to your “cognitive reserve.” In other words, you develop additional neurons and pathways in your brains. Why is this important? 

Normally your brain has one road to transport information from point A to point B. If there is a roadblock or dead end, the information won’t make it. However, people who develop new ways of thinking through mental exercises create multiple and alternative routes in their brains. This makes it easier and faster for vital information to travel. 

So exercise your brain. Do crossword puzzles, take up bridge, or learn a new language.

Social Engagement

Compelling research suggests seniors who spend most of their time in their immediate home environment are almost twice as likely to develop AD compared to those who travel more. These findings, however, may also reflect the general health of individuals. So it might be a chicken versus the egg scenario.

Still it is well documented that being engage in your surrounding world is good for your mental, physical, and emotional health.

Aerobic Exercise

When older adults with AD engage in aerobic exercise, it improves their psychological and behavioral symptoms.

For example, researchers looked at the relationship of physical activity and AD risk in about 1,700 adults aged 65 years and older. They found the risk of AD was 35 to 40 percent lower in those who exercised for at least 15 minutes, three or more times a week, than in those who exercised less.

Smoking

Smoking more than 2 packs of cigarettes a day from age 50 through 60 may increase your risk for AD and dementias. However, former smokers or those who smoked less than half a pack per day do not appear to have an increased risk. So if you still smoke now is the time to quit. Talk with your doctor about methods that could work for you.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NINDS) also suggests other preventive actions. These include:

Lowering Cholesterol Levels

Research suggests people with high cholesterol levels have an increased risk for AD. Cholesterol helps form amyloid plaques in the brain. Mutations in a gene called CYP46 and the APOE e4 gene variant, both of which have been linked to AD, are also involved in cholesterol formation. Several studies have also found that statins—drugs that lower cholesterol levels—is associated with a lower likelihood of cognitive impairment.

Lowering Blood Pressure

Antihypertensive medicine reduces the odds of cognitive impairment in elderly people with high blood pressure. One large European study found a 55 percent lower risk of dementia in people over age 60 who received drug treatment for hypertension. These people had a reduced risk of both AD and vascular dementia.

Controlling Inflammation

Many studies suggest inflammation may contribute to AD. Autopsies of people who died with AD show widespread inflammation in the brain. One study found men with high levels of C-reactive protein, a general marker of inflammation, had an increased risk of AD and other kinds of dementia.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Long-term use of NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen) may prevent or delay the onset of AD. Experts believe the effect may be due to reduced inflammation. A 2003 study found these drugs also bind to amyloid plaques and may help to dissolve them and thus prevent new plaques.

Lowering Homocysteine

Homocysteine (an amino acid) is a building block of protein that naturally circulates in the blood. Recent studies indicate that higher than average blood levels of homocysteine is a risk factor for AD, vascular dementia, and cognitive impairment.

A food high in folate (folic acid) and other B vitamins (such as B6 and B12) has shown to lower homocysteine levels. Whether or not increasing these B vitamins in one’s diet might offer a protective effect for AD is yet unknown.

Some good sources of folate include: 

  • romaine lettuce
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • collard greens
  • parsley
  • cauliflower
  • beets
  • lentils 

Sources of B6 and B12 include:

  • fish
  • red meat
  • potatoes
  • non-citrus fruit
  • fortified cereal
  • poultry
  • eggs