Published on: October 16, 2016
by Women’s Brain Health Initiative:
Nearly 60 percent of people worldwide believe that Alzheimer’s is unavoidable.
Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are not an inevitable part of aging. True, almost everyone forgets things occasionally from middle age onward. But not everyone develops a brain disorder that affects cognition (thinking ability), including memory, judgment, and eventually personality and behaviour — which is what Alzheimer’s is. Millions of people reach their 70s, 80s, and even 90s with good memories and relatively little decline in mental abilities.
According to an Alzheimer’s Association 12-country survey, 59 percent of people surveyed believed incorrectly that Alzheimer’s disease is a typical part of aging and 40 percent of people believe that Alzheimer’s is not fatal.
The Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month International Survey released in March 2014, conducted in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, also found that 37 percent of people surveyed have the misconception that you have to have a family history to be at risk for Alzheimer’s and nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Americans hold the same mistaken belief, despite advancing age being the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Speaking in his opening speech at the Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference in Manchester in March 2016, Professor Alistair Burns, National Clinical Director for Dementia at NHS England, highlighted the potential for a healthy lifestyle to lower the risk of dementia and called for messages about risk reduction to be promoted to the public.
Professor Burns addressed the largest gathering of dementia researchers in the country and urged more research into ways to prevent dementia, stating: “figures show that public understanding of dementia risk factors is low, and we must work to change that if we are to help reduce the number of people developing the condition. Encouragingly, these figures suggest that when given the right information, many people are motivated to make lifestyle choices to help lower their dementia risk – but currently too few people recognize that they may be able to make an impact. We must arm people with the knowledge they need to make informed choices about their lifestyle, as part of a wider strategy that must also include further research into preventions.”
National Director, Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, Professor Kevin
Fenton added: “Developing dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. Making better choices today can have a huge influence on our health and can reduce our risk of living with dementia later down the line. This includes things like eating well, moving more, quitting smoking and drinking less.”
Making Better Choices Today
GET MOVING – One of the key things we can do to keep our brains young is to engage in some sort of physical exercise. Higher exercise levels can reduce dementia risk by 30 – 40%. Physically active people tend to have better cognitive function and memory. Physical activity can also trigger the growth of new nerve cells and promote nerve growth. Even a little exercise is better than none…15 minutes of regular exercise three times a week can help maintain the brain.
PUMP SOME IRON – Studies have shown lifting weights, even light weights, have increased cognitive function and increased the levels of growth factors in the brain, such as IGFI (insulin-like growth factor 1) which nourish and protect nerve cells.
LEARNING – When we challenge the brain, we increase the number of brain cells and the number of connections between those cells. It is not enough to do things like crossword puzzles if this is something you routinely do. You have to learn new things like Sudoku or a new language. Engaging the mind can help older brains maintain healthy functioning.
REDUCE STRESS – Chronic stress floods our brains with the stress hormone cortisol, which if activated too often, leads to impaired memory. Harvard researchers studied men and women trained in meditation and found they had reduced harmful stress hormones compared to individuals who were not taking “down time” to reduce the stress in their lives.
Bottom line, the things that we keep hearing about – exercising, reducing stress, etc. – seem to have way more positives than negatives. So what do you have to lose? Get out there and “move your body”!
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