For many patients, the prospect of developing Alzheimer’s disease may provoke anxiety—particularly those women with a family history of the disease. As researchers continue to explore the condition’s etiology, risk factors, and potential treatments, there are pragmatic lifestyle choices and practices you can encourage your patients to adopt to help maintain and support their brain health. These activities may often boost both physical and emotional health and are generally positive habits to foster especially as women age.
First, try this short quiz to test your Alzheimer’s knowledge, then read on to learn what advice to give your patients.
Test Your Alzheimer’s Knowledge with this Quick Quiz
Defining terms for patients and lowering risk
“Dementia” is a general term for a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life, while “Alzheimer’s” is a specific disease and the most common cause of dementia according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Data from Harvard Medical School reveal that the risk of dementia is lower among individuals who adhere to the following healthy habits:
Leverage exercise’s natural power
The beneficial effects of exercise on brain health and function have been demonstrated in animal models and in a burgeoning number of clinical studies in humans. There are multiple mechanisms that account for its brain-enhancing effects, including neuroinflammation, vascularization, antioxidation, energy adaptation, and regulations on neurotrophic factors and neurotransmitters. Dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin are the 3 major monoamine neurotransmitters that are known to be modulated by exercise and can work against neurological disorders (Lin TW, Kuo YM. 2013). Exercise also improves mental health, blood pressure, and the regulation of blood sugar—all of which can impact development of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementia subtypes.
Staying physically active can become more difficult if a patient’s health declines, but healthcare providers can share ways to maintain physical activity even if mobility is limited. Patients don’t need to have full mobility to experience the health benefits of exercise. If injury, disability, illness, or weight problems have limited their mobility, there are still ways you can to harness exercise to boost mood, ease depression, relieve stress and anxiety, enhance self-esteem, and improve patient’s outlook on life. .
Take steps to stay sharp
Harvard Medical School research has found that engaging in mentally stimulating activities may help maintain brain fitness and potentially stave off dementia or other types of cognitive decline. For example, patients who have cognitively demanding jobs such as accountants or mathematics teachers or who engage in cognitively stimulating activities such as learning a second language or how to play a musical instrument were found to be at lower risk for developing cognitive decline and dementia. Researchers combined data from multiple studies that examined how work factors related to chronic disease, disability, and death. They found that individuals with cognitively stimulating jobs had a 23% lower risk of developing dementia compared with those whose jobs were not considered stimulating. Cognitively stimulating jobs were defined as those that allowed people to make decisions independently and required them to perform demanding tasks (Kivimäki M et al. 2021).
Play your way to brain health
The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada suggests engaging in brain-challenging games which such as chess, tabletop games, video games, word and number puzzles, jigsaws, crosswords, sudoku, and memory games. For optimal games on a patient’s computer, tablet, or phone, the association suggest locating pastimes in which the patient can play and interact with other people.
Great Senior Living provides this hyperlinked treasure trove of 80 Top Games for Seniors and the Elderly: Fun for All Abilities, which lists of some of the best examples within 7 main categories from video and card games, to word and number games. Engaging in activities such as these can decrease patients’ feelings of depression, isolation, and loneliness, which occur more frequently with age and are also associated with an increased risk for developing dementia, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Be sure to bookmark the agency’s resource-rich Alzheimer’s collection of information and tools for you and your patients.
Document changes; join a trial
Tracking changes in brain health by noting memory and other thinking skill performance over time can help detect changes in memory which can be critical to forestalling progression of Alzheimer’s which can begin 15 to 20 years before the manifestation of detectable symptoms.
Some changes in a patient’s mood or memory that may raise red flags are often noticed by other family members, not by the individual experiencing the changes herself. This makes it especially important for older patients who live alone or who do not have large social circles to try to track their own brain health.
One option for tracking brain health is the Alzheimer Prevention Trials (APT) Webstudy, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study monitors an individual’s brain health via regular online memory testing which can be completed anywhere at any time from a computer, laptop, or tablet. Participants take no-cost online memory tests on a quarterly basis which are automatically shared with researchers who track results over time. If changes in memory are detected, and a participant is close enough to a study site, the patient may be invited to an in- person evaluation and, if appropriate, given the option to join an Alzheimer’s clinical trial.
While exploration progresses
While researchers continue to advance treatments and attempts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, it’s critical to encourage patients to practice healthy brain habits and to monitor their brain health as they age in order to detect any changes in memory as early as possible. In the absence of a cure, taking such preventive measures and maintaining a healthy lifestyle may be the best defense against the disease.
The contents of this feature are not provided or reviewed by NPWH.