The science is becoming clearer and clearer: Taking care of yourself may be the best way to prevent or delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
In a new study, Dr. Richard Isaacson, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, said that a series of lifestyle changes and medical interventions can slow cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.
In an interview, Isaacson said that “people with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease should no longer feel helpless.”
“While there is no magic bullet,” Isaacson added, “we believe that one out of every three cases of Alzheimer’s may be preventable.”
For people already living with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Isaacson believes that better nutrition, lifestyle changes and targeted medical interventions can delay progression to full-blown dementia.
In a study published on October 30, Isaacson and his co-authors described a trial of 154 participants who were evaluated using three sets of metrics. Those involved anthropometrics including body composition measurements such as percentage of body fat, muscle mass and waist-to-hip circumference ratios.
Doctors also tracked participants’ blood biomarkers of dementia risk including cholesterol profile, inflammation, metabolic and nutritional markers and genetics. Finally, researchers measured cognitive performance such as memory, learning, executive function, processing speed, attention and language.
Based on the evaluations, trial participants received several dozen recommendations. Those ranged from increasing exercise levels and improving the quantity and quality of their sleep, to eating better and taking various medications, vitamins or supplements.
On the somewhat controversial question of supplements, Isaacson said he does not believe that there is any single pill that everyone should take. Instead, he relies on 19 specific blood tests to show what individuals may need that’s unique to them.
For example, for individuals with high homocysteine levels, Isaason recommends taking B complex vitamins. Other frequently recommended supplements, he said, include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and cocoa flavanols.
Isaacson urges people concerned about developing Alzheimer’s to engage their doctors in conversations about preventative measures.
“This stuff is not rocket science,” he said.
In fact, several other studies have looked at ways for seniors to optimize their health. Scientific evidence backs several key ways to improve your brain health—including finessing your diet, keeping your brain sharp by learning a new instrument and monitoring your cardiovascular risk factors.
The World Health Organization has also published a report on ways to prevent dementia, including undertaking 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise, eating a balanced diet and drinking in moderation (or not at all).
For people—and doctors—interested in learning more about the methods used at his Weill Cornell clinic, Isaacson said free online courses are offered at Alzheimer’s Universe. The website also offers a CME-accredited course for health care providers, as well as specialized courses for high school, college and medical school students as well as neurology residents.
Isaacson said he predicts that in the future, doctors will specialize in preventative neurology. “In an ideal world,” he said, “these kinds of interventions will become common practice.”