Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease

In a world where the treatment options for Alzheimer's disease are marginal at best and no miracle drugs are in sight, the focus in the fight against Alzheimer's is on prevention. While prevention strategies like immunizations aren't available yet, research has identified several ways that you can decrease your risk for Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. These include preserving your cardiovascular health, avoiding smoking, and regularly exercising.

While the outlook for Alzheimer's is not what everyone would like it to be today, the potential of such prevention efforts is a definite positive.

Elderly couple doing jigsaw puzzle
Alistair Berg / Getty Images

How Effective Are Prevention Strategies?

While it's true that other risk factors such as age, heredity, and family history play a role in determining your risk of Alzheimer's, multiple research studies have concluded that modifiable factors likely play a significant role in many cases of dementia as well.

However, it's important to understand that while these strategies have been associated with reduced risk, they haven't been directly shown to cause the reduced risk. Rather, most research has demonstrated a correlation, which shows a relationship to or a connection between the healthy living strategy and the reduced risk of dementia. One reason this is true of many studies is that research that determines cause is generally more difficult to conduct than research that shows correlation.

Additionally, there are some people that, although they practice many of these strategies and work hard to live a healthy life, still develop dementia

Science still has a ways to go when it comes to completely understanding what really causes dementia and, therefore, how people can fully prevent it from developing or treat it effectively after it is present. Nevertheless, the following strategies may help prevent Alzheimer's and are worth adopting for that and many other health reasons.

Protect Your Head

There is a connection between head injuries, especially those where you lose consciousness, and an increased risk of dementia. You can reduce the chances of head injuries by wearing a helmet when you ride your bike and play sports, by being aware of what causes people to experience falls in their homes and trying to prevent those situations, and by always wearing a seatbelt when you're in a car.

Keep Your Heart Healthy

Many of the same strategies to reduce heart disease also benefit your brain. For example, research suggests that high blood pressure is correlated with an increased risk of dementia, while lowering it through exercise and a heart-healthy diet can reduce your risk.

Interestingly, studies have found that if you're not effective with your efforts through diet and exercise, your risk of dementia can still be reduced by taking medications to lower your blood pressure.

Don't Smoke

Lighting up increases your risk for several types of cancer and lung diseases, but it also can hurt your brain. According to the World Health Organization, 14% of Alzheimer's cases worldwide may be attributed to smoking tobacco.

Even secondhand smoke may increase your dementia risk.

Keep Moving

Physical exercise has been strongly correlated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's and other types of dementia. Studies have been conducted on several types of activity, including running, weight resistance training, and yoga, all of which showed the potential to reduce your risk of dementia.

Along with specific types of exercise, physical activity in general—including dancing and gardening—has been connected to dementia prevention. Even just reducing your sedentary time is a good first step.

Eat Right

What you put in your mouth has a significant connection to the health of your brain. A healthy diet that helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer's includes whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and leafy green vegetables, among other foods, as well as limited sugar.

Adhering to the Mediterranean diet, which often contains many of these recommended foods, has been correlated with a host of health benefits, including improved brain functioning and fewer changes that are seen in Alzheimer's disease.

Lower levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and vitamin E have all been associated with decreased cognitive functioning in some research studies. In particular, a deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause significant memory loss and confusion that may be at least partially reversed through vitamin B12 supplementation. Likewise, higher levels of vitamin D and vitamin E have been linked to dementia prevention.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Keeping your body mass index (BMI) in a healthy range, especially in your middle years, has been tied to dementia prevention.

Exercise Your Mind

Mental activity has been associated with increased cognitive reserve, which, in turn, has been connected with dementia prevention. Exercise your brain to keep it sharp.

Research connecting mental exercise to better brain health includes activities such as learning and using another language, doing crossword puzzles, playing card games, and even going online to participate in social media.

Along the same lines as mental exercise, cognitive training takes things a step further. It consists of spending structured time training your brain, almost as if you were working out with a personal trainer for your mind.

You could go back to school. Research has repeatedly connected higher education levels to a lower risk of cognitive impairment. Even if you don't enroll officially, it's important to keep learning throughout your whole life.

Some research suggests that you may want to switch it up. Learning about things that are unfamiliar to you can have more of a benefit than continuing to focus on the same topic that you've been interested in for many years.

Control Your Blood Sugar

A strong connection between higher blood sugar and dementia risk exists. The link is so profound that Alzheimer's disease has been nicknamed "type 3 diabetes."

Maintaining good control of your blood sugar, whether you have diabetes or not, can be thought of as preventive medicine for your brain.

Seek Social Interaction

Spending time with friends has been identified as an important factor, both for maintaining quality of life and for reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. It's not necessarily the number of friends you have, but rather the quality and depth of the friendships that matters.

Social interactions such as babysitting grandchildren have also been associated with improved cognitive functioning.

Get Better Sleep

Getting plenty of sleep is recommended by the National Institute on Aging. But it's also important to identify if you might have sleep apnea—where you stop breathing multiple times while you're sleeping—and to address it properly. Sleep apnea has many risks associated with it, including an increased risk of dementia.

The good news is that research has also shown that people who treated their sleep apnea with a machine that helps them breathe, such as a CPAP machine, experienced a significant improvement in their cognitive functioning when compared to those who did not seek treatment.

Treat Depression

Both early-life and later-life depression have been found to increase the risk of developing dementia. Why is uncertain, but the effects of depression can affect brain function.

It's possible that addressing symptoms of depression could not only improve your quality of life, but perhaps also decrease your risk of later experiencing dementia.

A Word From Verywell

Many of these well-researched steps to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are really just directions for healthy living. If you're looking for more motivation to make the gym a priority, or to choose an apple instead of that bag of chips, the thought that you may be able to protect your brain from diseases like Alzheimer’s might provide just the push you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can you do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

    Given that the cause of Alzheimer’s is largely unknown, no single intervention has proven effective in preventing the disease. With that said, research strongly suggests that a healthy lifestyle, including routine exercise, ample sleep, and a healthy diet, may slow the progression of the disease and help preserve cognitive function.

  • Are there foods or diets that can help Alzheimer’s disease?

    It is thought that a Western-type, meat-based diet promotes inflammation that contributes to the accumulation of plaques and nerve tangles in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. By contrast, a Mediterranean diet (including the use of extra virgin olive oil) may help reduce inflammation, free radicals, and cardiovascular disease linked to onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Can omega-3 fatty acids or other supplements help with Alzheimer’s disease?

    No supplement has consistently shown benefits in people with Alzheimer’s, but there is evidence that omega-3 fatty acid supplements may be beneficial in the early stages of the disease. Vitamin E supplementation may also help given that vitamin E deficiency is closely linked to Alzheimer's. Lab studies also suggest that antioxidants like vitamin C and beta carotene may slow the onset of dementia by decreasing damage caused by free radicals.

  • Do video games or mental exercises improve Alzheimer’s?

    There is evidence that cognitive-stimulating activities can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in people with mild to moderate symptoms. As opposed to passive activities like watching TV, cognitive-stimulating activities are those that require active engagement, such as video games, attending concerts or lectures, doing word games or puzzles, or engaging in practical activities like baking that involve following instructions.

  • How does exercise help with Alzheimer’s disease?

    It helps in part by preventing cardiovascular diseases that affect blood flow to the brain. Exercise is also linked to improved cognitive function in general. Although study findings are conflicting, some have suggested that exercise may reduce the risk of dementia by anywhere from 28% to 45%. It is unclear how much exercise is beneficial, but it is thought that even two hours of aerobic activity per week can help.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.