For the first time, we have research that conclusively shows that memory loss due to aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s can be prevented. If these diseases have already started to develop, the research also shows how the deterioration can be slowed. The research studies that have conclusively shown that these diseases are preventable have combined several different strategies that have been previously been associated with a lower risk of memory deterioration. What follows is a summary of what we now know about preventing memory loss.
- A healthy diet. A food pattern low in saturated fat, low in sugar and high in fruits and vegetables as well as whole unprocessed grains should be adopted, if not already practiced.
- Exercise. For people who are not very active, a program of moderate exercise like walking combined with some aerobic exercise should be adopted, if possible.
- Mental stimulation. Game playing, puzzles, ongoing education, writing and anything that requires the learning of new skills and strategies supports mental competency.
- Continued social engagement. Time with friends and family, parties, church activities and any other activities that include social interactions are important.
- Control of chronic medical problems like diabetes and high blood pressure.
This should be enough guidance for you to begin to apply these strategies. But if you would like to read about the research that supports these recommendations, scroll down for a more in-depth discussion and some links to a few key research studies.
The pharmaceutical industry, despite an enormous effort, has yet to find any drugs that stop memory loss in those afflicted with diseases like Alzheimer’s dementia. The few drugs that have been shown to be helpful do not stop the loss of memory neurons; they just help the neurons that remain to function more effectively.
On the other hand, approaches that involve changes in life style have shown much more promise. Observation studies have shown correlations between strategies like modifying food choices, more exercise and better control of medical problems and a lower risk of dementia. But until recently, no randomized trials have been available to provide strong enough support for these strategies to merit recommendations for widespread adoption in our lives.
Randomized, controlled trials are now available, though, that have used a combination of several of these promising strategies in their design. From these we can now reliably say that loss of memory over time can definitely be slowed for those who already have been affected, and the same factors are likely to prevent the onset of these mentally debilitating diseases for those of us whose memory is still intact. It is also important to note that most of these strategies that protect our mental abilities also have been shown to decrease our risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and excessive weight gain.
Food habits are probably the most thoroughly studied of these life-style strategies. What has been called “The Mediterranean Diet” has strong research support in this regard. This food approach stresses whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish in place of refined grains, sugar and red meat. Less refined foods and less animal products have also been shown to decrease the risk of diabetes, cancer, atherosclerosis and obesity.
Exercise has also been well studied and shows definite benefit to help maintain memory. Moderate activities like walking, as well as more strenuous aerobic exercises have been found to be helpful. And, of course, exercise also has very positive effects on heart health and body weight control.
There is also strong evidence that controlling medical problems like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol also protects our memory and other mental abilities. The better the control of these conditions, the better our memory is preserved.
Involvement with other people is also quite important. Our relationships with family and friends protects our mental functions. Employment, being involved in church activities and group activities of any type are all highly desirable.
Games that involve mental strategies and problem solving also have strong support. Puzzles, computer games and any kind of continuing education is valuable and protective. Music, whether listening to favorite pieces or playing a musical instrument, has been shown to be beneficial.
At this point in time, it is clear that current drugs are not an answer to the epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia. In contrast, life-style changes can definitely help, and we can begin to adopt these strategies today.
Here are a few key research reports that support the conclusions in this article:
A summary of the important details of the “Finger” study that showed that a combination of food habit modification, physical activity, intensive metabolic monitoring and cognitive training helps to prevent dementia:
A couple research reports showing that the “Mediterranean Diet” helps prevent Alzheimers Disease”
Association of Mediterranean diet with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis