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Make brain health a top new year's resolution for 2024


Tue, Jan 9th 2024 04:45 pm

Guest Editorial by the Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer’s disease is expected to impact nearly 13 million Americans by 2050, including 410,000 New Yorkers today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. So, as you contemplate your new year’s resolutions for 2024, consider taking steps to maintain and improve your cognitive function.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that what is good for the heart is good for our brains. Research has shown lifestyle changes like improving diet and exercising regularly have helped drive down death rates from cancer, heart disease and other major diseases. These same lifestyle changes may also reduce or slow your risk of cognitive decline, which is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Keeping our brains healthy is not something we should worry about only as we get older. It should be a lifelong effort.

Healthy Brain Tips

Looking for tips on how to protect your cognitive health? Here are several ideas borne from research supported by the Alzheimer’s Association:

•Manage your blood pressure – People treated by FDA-approved medications to a top (systolic) blood pressure reading of 120 instead of 140 were 19% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, according to a study led by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Those people also had fewer signs of damage on brain scans, and there was a possible trend toward fewer cases of dementia.

•Check your hearing – Hearing loss is present in 65% of adults over age 60, according to researchers. The ACHIEVE study looked at a subgroup of older adults with hearing loss who were at higher risk for cognitive decline (about one-quarter of the total study population), and showed that those participants at highest risk for cognitive decline who utilized hearing aids and hearing counseling for three years cut their cognitive decline in half (48%).

•Get vaccinated – Getting an annual flu vaccination was associated with a 40% decrease in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease over the next four years, according to researchers from The University of Texas’ McGovern Medical School who found that even a single flu vaccination could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 17%.

•Go with your gut – 16% of the world’s population struggles with constipation – more among older adults due to fiber-deficient diets, lack of exercise, and the use of certain medications. Researchers found that bowel movements of every three days or less was associated with 73% higher odds of subjective cognitive decline and long-term health issues like inflammation, hormonal imbalances and anxiety/depression.

•Cut back on “ultra-processed” foods – People who consume the highest amount of ultra-processed foods have a 28% faster decline in global cognitive scores – including memory, verbal fluency, and executive function – compared to those with lower consumption, according to research involving half a million people living in the U.K. High consumption was defined as more than 20% of daily caloric intake. Ultra-processed foods are those that go through significant industrial processes and contain large quantities of fats, sugar, salt, artificial flavors/colors, stabilizers and/or preservatives. Examples include sodas, breakfast cereals, white bread, potato chips, and frozen foods such as lasagna, pizza, ice cream, hamburgers and fries.

•Get vaccinated (part 2) – Getting a vaccination against pneumonia between the ages of 65 and 75 reduced Alzheimer’s risk by up to 40% according to a Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute study.

•Be social – That’s right. Add “hang out with friends” and “have fun” to your new year’s resolutions list. For example, enroll in a dance class with a friend. Alzheimer’s researchers are now looking into whether increased socialization – along with a “cocktail” of lifestyle interventions including improved diet, exercise, cognitive stimulation and self-monitoring of heart health risk – can protect cognitive function. The Alzheimer’s Association’s U.S. study to protect brain health through lifestyle intervention to reduce risk (U.S. POINTER) is a two-year clinical trial that hopes to answer this question, and is the first such study to be conducted of a large group of Americans nationwide.

There is currently no certain way to prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias, but there is much to be gained by living a healthy lifestyle and adopting brain health habits that you enjoy.

Alzheimer’s by the numbers:

√ More than 6.7 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia in 2023 – 55 million people around the world

√ About 1 person in 9 (11.3%) in the U.S. age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia

√ More than 66,000 Iowans are living with dementia

√ Approximately two-thirds of those living with Alzheimer’s are women

√ People of color are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s: Black Americans are twice as likely as whites, while Hispanics are 50% more likely than whites

More About the Alzheimer's Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia – by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia. Visit alz.org or call 800-272-3900.

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