Preventing Alzheimer’s: Exercise, Diet and Brain Games Show Promise

  • People want to know. Can we prevent Alzheimer's? Certainly, there are no guarantees. Throughout my years writing for this site, I've written about studies on exercise, diet and brain games. All have shown some promise, but none say "this will prevent Alzheimer's."


    Now, a Wall Street Journal article titled "How to Outsmart Alzheimer's: New Effort Tries to Fight Disease With Word, Math Games, even Wii for Exercise," shines an even brighter light on this approach.


    The article begins thus: "Doctors frustrated by a lack of a cure, or even an effective treatment, for Alzheimer's disease are trying a new approach: preventing the disease altogether. A new project, the Cognitive Fitness and Innovative Therapies, or CFIT, is trying to keep people at risk for Alzheimer's intellectually and physically fit with quizzes and other cognitive challenges to see if onset of the disease can be delayed, perhaps indefinitely."

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    This article brings together an array of approaches that we can all take to help ward off Alzheimer's disease, or at least keep it a bay a little longer. This approach may even help some people who are already showing signs of dementia.


    These articles on Our Alzheimer's have alluded to studies in the past: Study Shows Structured Exercise Can Improve Quality of Life for People with Alzheimer's, Use It or Lose It: Games Help Keep the Brain Healthy, High Fat Diet May Add to Alzheimer's Risk , Is Heart-Healthy Good for the Brain? and Diet May Help Alzheimer's Patients Live Longer, But What About Their Quality of Life? This new article on the Wall Street Journal shows that many researchers are pretty well convinced that a significant number of people may be able to avoid Alzheimer's disease, or at least put off the symptoms, by adopting a healthier lifestyle.


    Have our couch-potato lifestyles with fast food and mind-numbing TV watching put us at risk for more than obesity? These scientists seem to think so. Apparently, even people who make their living in highly intellectual fields can't feel smug about their brains. Researchers feel that the attorney who says, "Hey, I use my brain all day long! I don't need to worry," still, um, needs to worry. We are supposed to use our brains in many different ways in order to stimulate it to stay flexible and young.


    My mother loved crossword puzzles which she began doing to entertain herself as she sat at her mother's side during her mother's last months. Mom kept the puzzles going until the last couple of weeks of her own life. Did they keep dementia at bay? No. She had other issues working against her. However, who is to say they didn't help stave off the symptoms for a time? There's really no way to know. Perhaps, if more had been known at the time about doing different things - or doing the same things in a different way - she may have done better. There's no way to know.


    However, we do have enough science behind us now to know that yes, crossword puzzles do help keep the brain working. But, as even Mom would have admitted, when you do them enough, there is a pattern. They become easier. That's a clue that it's time to learn something new.


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    If we are addicted to crosswords, there's no reason to stop. But maybe you should add a math game, learn a new language, learn new computer programs, learn to dance (music is good anyway), go to work by a different route every day, attack the grocery shopping in a different order - anything to shake up the brain.


    We should also avoid saturated fats and try to mimic the Greek food culture and adapt their fish, vegetable and olive-oil-rich diets. We should probably, also, supplement with Omega 3 fatty acids, though checking with a doctor about that is wise.


    And yes, we need to exercise. Sigh! We need to walk when we could ride. We need to take the steps when we could use the elevator. We probably should hit the gym or buy a bike and ride it. All of these things are good for our hearts.


    Well, maybe our hearts don't care about the brain exercises. However, most things that are good for our hearts have been shown to be good for our brains. Add to the heart-healthy lifestyle a lot of good quality, varied brain exercise, and we may find the rate of Alzheimer's going down even as our population ages. Wouldn't that be amazing?


    What if none of this helps? We all know people who have "done everything right," yet they have gotten Alzheimer's anyway. That certainly could happen. However, if it does, we'd at least know we did our best. We did what researchers have suspected could help our brains age in a good way. Knowing we did our best does have some value, even if we "fail."


    Since a magic bullet to prevent and/or cure Alzheimer's isn't yet on the horizon, it seems that adapting these health-enhancing habits are a good idea. I'd love to say that I have the discipline to do it all. I don't. But this Wall Street Journal article has me pumped enough to improve my ways. Baby steps are better than no steps. I believe that this article brings good news. It's up to us to put the information to use.


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Published On: April 02, 2010