Maintaining a Healthy Brain
In our view, understanding the causal factors of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is complex, and just focusing on tangles and plaques is too simplistic. We emphasize the importance of identifying risk factors for AD that may or may not contribute to the production of plaques and tangles, but may cause AD and related dementias. Moreover, lifestyle and specific health factors during the mid-life years may be critical in determining whether one develops AD or other dementias.
Two review-based studies provide some insights. In their review of the literature, Barnes and Yaffe (2011) identified seven largely modifiable risk factors for AD. They were physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, low education, depression, diabetes, and hypertension. The researchers estimate that up to half of AD cases worldwide (17 million) and in the US (nearly 3 million) are potentially attributable to these factors. Furthermore, a 10–25% reduction in all of these risk factors could potentially prevent between 1-3 million AD cases worldwide and 184,000–492,000 cases in the US. Similarly, based on a meta-analysis, Jin-Tai Yu and colleagues (2015) identified nine risk factors that might explain up to 67% of AD cases. These were obesity, carotid artery narrowing, low educational achievement, hyperhomocysteine (a type of amino acid), depression, hypertension, frailty, current smoking, and type 2 diabetes (Asian-background populations).
Many of the risk factors identified in these studies are closely correlated. To make it simple, we suggest that people (ages 50 and above) embrace six healthy lifestyle behaviors, and that they integrate them into daily living. These are: physical exercise, no smoking, treat depression if and when it occurs, keep blood pressure within normal ranges, keep weight at healthy levels, and add cognitive challenges to your daily routine (use evidence-based cognitive exercise). One easy way to remember to practice these brain-healthy behaviors is to use this acronym:
- A – Add cognitive stimulation routinely
- N – No smoking
- T – Treat depression
- H – Healthy weight and body fats
- E – Exercise (physical)
- M – Manage hypertension and cardiac health
It is never too early to practice healthy life habits. Moreover, given the increased physical, emotional, and cognitive risks associated with caregiving, ANTHEM provides a pathway for caregivers to stay healthy.
To learn more, watch the ANTHEM video on our BCAT YouTube Channel.