Your biggest risk factors are your lifestyle choices.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FAAN
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death for people over the age of sixty-five. We can’t slow it down once you are diagnosed, and we haven’t cured it. Therefore, there have been no survivors of anyone ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s until we have a major medical breakthrough. In this week’s episode, you’ll learn about the top ten tips for preventing Alzheimer’s Disease.
Part One of ‘Ten Tips for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease’
While getting older is the biggest risk factor, including your gender and your genetics, those are things that you can’t really control. But your biggest risk factors are your lifestyle choices. Those are called modifiable risk factors, so that we can do something about those.
Tip 1: Stay Active
Move Naturally. I heard this tip several years ago at a conference at a presentation on the Blue Zones. I was relieved to know that I didn’t need to start training for a marathon or spend hours in the gym everyday. It’s about the small things – like making sure that you’re getting 10,000 steps in a day and doing some type of strength and flexibility exercise in your daily life. You should have or maintain an active lifestyle – whether it’s moving around your house, walking around the block, or volunteering – all those things can help because there have been several studies that have associated the amount of physical activity that you have in a day. It does reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
Tip 2. Stay Connected
The second tip is to stay connected. In the middle of a pandemic, this has been a little bit more challenging for all of us. But making sure that you’re staying connected to your family, friends, and community is important because if you’re not doing that, you are socially isolated. Social isolation is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. You can check out my podcast about the Well Connected program as a resource for online and landline social connection opportunities.
Tip 3: Learn New Things
You can do this by taking formal classes or just learning a new hobby. You can sign up to take a class at a community college or take online courses about topics that you are interested in. You can also pick up a new hobby. Maybe there’s something that you’ve always wanted to learn how to do. YouTube teaches me new things every day – from learning to paint and spackle my own walls to changing out my toilet flapper. Who knew?! You can check out my YouTube channel to learn more about healthy aging and things we need to think about (and do) to become an age-friendly world.
It is important to challenge and activate your mind.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FAAN
Tip 4: Get Enough Sleep
Do you have good sleep habits? You can find out how if you do here. If you didn’t get enough sleep, that’s going to impact your ability to think, and it’s going to cause trouble with your memory. There are common sleep changes, but also thinking about is there an underlying reason for why you’re not getting as much sleep?
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or falling asleep, those could be signs of depression, anxiety, or you’re experiencing sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you are having any trouble with your sleep or not waking up rested and refreshed, that would be worth having a conversation with your primary care provider.
Part Two of ‘Ten Tips for Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease’
Tip 5: Eat and Drink Well
Obesity is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease. You want to be sure that you’re maintaining a healthy weight. This means eating heart healthy and non-processed foods and limiting your sugar intake. Eating natural foods that you can recognize (e.g., an apple or banana) is better than eating processed foods that you’re not sure what’s in them. Adopt strategies from the Mediterranean-DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) for brain and heart health.
Avoiding soda and limiting your alcohol intake is also recommended. And if you don’t really like water, there are a lot of water flavoring that you can add to your water or even just switching to carbonated sparkling water (I started doing this at home with DrinkMate and my son and I love it!). Your heart and brain are 73% water, so staying hydrated is important for brain health. It’s also important to limit alcohol, so here are common amounts to keep in mind: Moderate drinking, defined as 1 drink/ day for women; 2 drinks for men may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s (but do not start drinking if you do not already). Also keep in mind that Heavy Drinking, defined as 3-5 drinks per day, increases your risk for memory problems, accidents with injury, and damage to the brain, liver, kidneys and other vital organs.
Tip 6: Safety First
Sustaining a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, it is essential to do things like wearing your seatbelt. If you’re going to get involved in sports and you want to avoid a significant form of TBI, and one last thing to keep in mind is to prevent falls. One in four Americans fall every year, and they’re the leading cause of death for both fatal and non-fatal injuries for sixty-five and older people. Learn more about how to prevent falls.
Beware of your medications and talk to your
primary care provider or your pharmacist before
you add anything or abruptly stop anything.
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FAAN
Tip 7: Stop Smoking
Cigarette smoking increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is important to stop smoking. In fact, after a year or two of not smoking, your risk factor goes right back to the same level that’s comparable to people who never smoked. The process can be difficult if you’re a lifelong smoker; it is beneficial to stop no matter what age you are. If you are having trouble smoking, your primary care provider may help you with that as well.
Tip 8: See Your Primary Care Provider
Tip 9: Know Your Numbers
There are many risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. So be sure you know what your lab value (levels) are for your: Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar, and your Body Mass Index.
Tip 10: Mind Your Medications
Follow the Brown Bag Review (approach).
This will help your primary care provider do a Medication Reconciliation. Know what prescription medications you are taking, what dose you should be taking, and why – Discuss deprescribing with your PCP.
Use caution with Over-the-Counter vitamins and supplements that may cause interactions – talk with your primary care provider and/or pharmacist before adding anything or stopping abruptly.
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer.
I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (2011) ) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities.
Find out more about her work HERE.