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Prevention of Dementia and Other Cognitive Disorders

Rudolph C. Hatfield, PhD., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

senior woman playing tennis There is no formal way to actually test if some type of diet, behavior, or other activity will "prevent" someone from getting Alzheimer's disease. This is because it is impossible to test this type of question in a controlled research study with humans. However, the research does suggest that there may be several activities that most people can engage in that will either significantly decrease the risk that they will develop Alzheimer's disease or will delay the onset of the disorder. These options are often referred to as protective factors or behaviors. A few of the most important behaviors to consider are:

Staying Active: Research has consistently reported that remaining active is an important protective factor for many different diseases and conditions that may happen as one gets older. The research has also shown that staying physically active is a very powerful protective factor against age-related diseases and conditions. For instance, just taking a 20-minute walk each day can significantly decrease the risk for developing many different age-related conditions including Alzheimer's disease. Other activities can also help reduce the risk to develop Alzheimer's disease. This might include:

  • continuing to read
  • interacting with others (see below)
  • keeping a sense of purpose in one's life
  • taking up a hobby. This might include gardening, walking, yoga, doing crossword puzzles, or even knitting

Getting Good Nutrition: Research has also indicated that good nutritional practices are important preventive factors that can help protect someone against age-related diseases and disorders like Alzheimer's disease. However, the use of megavitamin supplements, herbs, and other so-called "miracle cures" are not justified by the research. Instead, common sense dietary practices are the best approaches including:

  • limiting the amount of fat in one's diet
  • eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • eating plenty of grains

Using herbal supplements can make things worse. This is because many of these products are not subject to federal regulations. They may contain substances that are harmful to one's health.

Staying connected with others: Continuing to participate in activities with other people is an important protective factor against all sorts of physical and mental age-related problems. People can significantly decrease the risk of developing disorders like Alzheimer's disease and other dementias by doing things like:

  • attending talks or lectures
  • going to church
  • playing cards
  • just being with other people and interacting with them.

Maintaining connections with others does not mean watching TV. It means getting out and getting involved with other people on a person-to-person basis. Even having a pet, such as a dog or cat, and caring for that pet can be an important social activity for older people.

Continuing to get regular medical checkups: It is extremely important for older people to make sure that they are up-to-date on all their medical checkups. They also need to continue to follow the instructions of their doctor regarding any medications or the treatment for any conditions. This includes regular dental checkups. Many research studies have indicated that there is a connection between the health of teeth and physical and mental health. This connection is most likely very complicated. It does not necessarily mean there is a direct cause where having bad teeth makes someone have dementia. However, it is clear that part of the overall approach to maintaining sound physical and mental health includes taking care of one's teeth, as well as the rest of the body. Doing so can reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.



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