Top 13 Things You Should Do Now to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer's (Updated for 2023)
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month – a perfect time to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, reflect on your own brain health and that of your loved ones, and learn ways to prevent it. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It devastates a person’s memory, thinking and behavior. It can overwhelm families with caregiving, financial, and emotional burdens.
One in nine Americans over 65 years old has Alzheimer’s, and many more suffer from related dementias. The total number of Americans stricken by this disease is nearing 7 million, and it is expected to triple by 2050.1 Rather than wait for dementia to creep up on you (gradual changes in your brain may take 20-30 years to appear as symptoms), you can start taking action today to reduce your risk. In fact, research shows that people who adopt several healthy lifestyle factors can potentially reduce their risk by as much as 60%.2
Here is our updated list of actions you can take to improve your brain health and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. This year, we added a few new ones, based on the Lancet Commission’s ongoing report on dementia prevention.3 You’ll find nutritional advice sprinkled throughout (NeuroReserve’s specialty), as well as key lifestyle habits to follow.
Top 13 Things You Should Do Now to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer's
1. Get your daily fill of leafy green vegetables: Leafy green vegetables are packed with nutrients that support the brain. These nutrients provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects to reduce damage. Leafy greens provide polyphenols which are plant-based pigments known for their numerous health benefits. Kaempferol is a polyphenol in leafy greens like spinach, kale, and arugula, which has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50% in the top fifth of those consuming it!4 Leafy greens also provide important minerals like magnesium and iron, as well as gut-healthy fiber. Aim for 1 cup of raw leafy greens or ½ cup of cooked leafy greens daily to attain brain benefits, as well as gut-healthy fiber.
2. Practice stress management and prioritize mental health, especially depression: Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives and not managing stress can take a big toll on the body. Studies have shown that chronic stress over time can have a negative impact on memory in older adults.5 Also, keep in-mind that chronic stress and depression are related and can feed off each other. In fact, depression, and then anxiety, may be the very first indicators of heightened likelihood of Alzheimer’s, happening about 9 years before onset.6 There are many ways to reduce the effects of stress on the body. Some common stress management practices include deep breathing or meditation, exercise, keeping a gratitude journal, spending time with loved ones, and practicing self-care.
3. Connect with friends or family every day: Interacting with people close to you stimulates different parts of the brain and supports attention and memory. In fact, studies have linked more social activity with less cognitive decline during old age.7 Make a point of connecting with family or friends every day, even if it’s just a quick phone call. Our brains are made for relationships!
4. Enjoy a handful of berries daily: Berries are often considered a “superfood,” and for good reason. Berries are rich in polyphenols like anthocyanins, flavonoids, and stilbenes that offer powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects to protect the brain from damage. Studies have found a decreased rate of cognitive decline in those consuming just 1-2 servings of berries per week.8 Spring and summer are a perfect time to enjoy fresh berries, but frozen berries are a great alternative when you can’t find fresh, and they provide the same benefit.
5. Get some fresh air: Exposure to air pollutants and fine air particles are associated with poor health, and that includes a heightened risk of dementia (up to 60% higher).3 While it’s difficult to separate air pollution from other factors, research is showing that air pollution may contribute to Alzheimer’s pathology, like amyloid deposition. Thus, while it’s not easy for everyone to relocate to the countryside, there are some simple ways to freshen our air. Try decorating with houseplants. Spider plants, bromeliads, and dracaenas are especially good at filtering nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds from the air. Make sure to regularly change your home’s HVAC filters. Also, when exercising outdoors, try doing it at off hours, either early in the morning or in the evening, outside of rush hour.
6. Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night: Sleep is critical for the body and brain to function properly. It plays a role in learning, memory, concentration, and supporting communication between neurons. An analysis of studies looking at the relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s found a significantly higher risk of Alzheimer’s in those that had sleep disturbances or sleep disorders.9 Prioritize high quality sleep by sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding alcohol or caffeine before bed, and putting away screens at least 30 minutes before bed.
7. Be physically active for 30 minutes a day (even if it’s just a walk): Exercise has profound effects on brain health. It reduces inflammation, improves blood flow to the brain, lowers stress hormones, and even increases brain volume. Several studies have shown that exercise improves memory function in adults.10 The key is to exercise regularly. Exercise can come in many forms; from walking or running, to swimming or cycling, any type of aerobic exercise that gets the heart rate up can benefit brain health. Just a 30-minute walk with a friend can have profound brain benefits from the combination of moving and socializing.
8. Make sure you get enough Omega-3s: Omega-3s are healthy fats that help maintain the structure of cells and regulate cell communication, fighting neuroinflammation, and improving memory and mood. Several studies have reported benefits of omega-3s in reducing the risk of dementia and improving cognitive function.11 You can achieve an adequate intake of omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, or anchovies, as well as nuts like flax seeds, chia seeds, or walnuts.
9. Read or play games that activate your brain: Just like you need to exercise physically to keep your body in shape, you need to exercise your brain to keep your brain healthy as you age. Many studies have demonstrated a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s with an increased frequency of cognitively stimulating activities.12 Using your brain in different ways has been shown to have more powerful effects on brain health. For example, try a new puzzle or game every week that activates different parts of the brain; if you prefer a cognitive training app on your smartphone, there are a number of options, like BrainHQ. Picking up new hobbies or continuing old ones such as playing an instrument helps keep the brain engaged.
10. Drink at least 8 cups of water a day: Water is the most important thing that we consume in a day. In fact, the human brain is composed of 75% water, so it’s understandable that only 2% dehydration can impact memory and processing speed. A recent study found that drinking water enhances performance on cognitive tests measuring working memory, which is the temporary storage of information during tasks and decision making.13 Keep a water bottle nearby throughout the day to ensure you stay hydrated and aim for about 8 cups (64 ounces) per day.
11. Watch-out for hearing loss: If you’re finding yourself having to raise the volume of your TV or are finding it hard to hear high-pitched voices (like that of children), then it could be hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss is very common, with about 40% of people over age 50 experiencing some hearing loss, and over 70% of those over age 70 having hearing loss. Hearing loss can lead to social isolation and hinder cognitive stimulation, and it is associated with an almost doubled risk of dementia.3 Evidence is showing that hearing aids can protect from cognitive decline. So, don’t hesitate to see your audiologist to make sure your hearing is up to par.
12. Stay on top of your heart and metabolic health: It is becoming clear that all aspects of health are connected to brain health. A couple of key health measures are heart health and metabolic (think diabetes) health, as they have been directly linked to Alzheimer’s risk. For example, a significantly increased risk of Alzheimer’s is associated with diabetes and obesity.14 It’s important to keep track of your heart and metabolic health to recognize if there are any issues that need to be addressed. Early detection makes it easier to make the adjustments necessary to maintain health and prevent damage to the brain.
13. Consider a supplement to fill the gaps in your diet: At NeuroReserve, our passion is in nutritional products for brain health. We know it’s challenging for people to eat all the nutrients your brain needs on a daily basis, especially given the busyness of life. Taking a daily supplement may help fill these nutritional gaps. RELEVATE contains 17 well-researched nutrients to support long-term brain health. Its dosages are based on those consumed in brain-healthy diets like the Mediterranean and MIND diets. RELEVATE is built on evidence from long-term studies of these brain strengthening diets that are linked to significantly reduced risk of age-related neurodegenerative disease (over 50% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s).15 You may want to consider a supplement like this if you want to close important gaps and reinforce with brain-protective nutrition.
There is a lot that you can do today to best support your brain in preventing Alzheimer’s, but you don’t have to do everything at once. Pick one or two things that you want to prioritize, and gradually add in more when you can. The key is finding the things that work for you to sustain a brain-healthy lifestyle.
This Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, take your first (or next) steps toward a longer lifespan, healthspan, and brainspan!
We hope this has inspired you to take action for your cognitive health, including reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease. If you're eager to explore more evidence-based articles, brain health tips, delicious recipes, and more, sign up for our newsletter here.
- Alzheimer’s Association. 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimers Dement. 19 (2023).
- Dhana, K., Evans, D. A., Rajan, K. B., Bennett, D. A., and Morris, M. C., Healthy lifestyle and the risk of Alzheimer dementia: Findings from 2 longitudinal studies. Neurology, 2020, 95, E374–E383.
- Livingston G., et al., Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 2020, 396:10248.
- Holland, T. M., Agarwal, P., Wang, Y., et al., Dietary flavonols and risk of Alzheimer dementia. Neurology, 2020, 94, e1749–e1756.
- Peavy, G. M., Ph, D., Salmon, D. P., et al., Effects of chronic stress on memory decline in cognitively normal and mildly impaired older adults. Am. J. Psychiatry, 2009, 166, 1384–1391.
- Nedelec T., et al., Identifying health conditions associated with Alzheimer’s disease up to 15 years before diagnosis: an agnostic study of French and British health records. The Lancet Digital Health, 2022, 4:3.
- James, B. D., Wilson, R. S., Barnes, L. L., and Bennett, D. A., Late-Life Social Activity and Cognitive Decline in Old Age. J Int Neuropsychol Soc., 2011, 711–716.
- Devore, E. E., Kang, J. H., Breteler, M. M. B., and Grodstein, F., Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann. Neurol., 2012, 72, 135–143.
- Bubu, O. M., Brannick, M., Mortimer, J., et al., Sleep, Cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sleep, 2017, 40, 1–18.
- Loprinzi, P. D., Frith, E., Edwards, M. K., Sng, E., and Ashpole, N., The Effects of Exercise on Memory Function Among Young to Middle-Aged Adults: Systematic Review and Recommendations for Future Research. Am. J. Heal. Promot., 2018, 32, 691–704.
- Issa, A. M., Mojica, W. A., Morton, S. C., et al., The efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive function in aging and dementia: A systematic review. Dement. Geriatr. Cogn. Disord., 2006, 21, 88–96.
- Bardai, Z., Neural Plasticity and Cognitive Reserve. J. Curr. Clin. Care, 2012, 2.
- Edmonds, C. J., Beeley, J., Rizzo, I., Booth, P., and Gardner, M., Drinking Water Enhances Cognitive Performance: Positive Effects on Working Memory But Not Long-Term Memory. J. Cogn. Enhanc., 2022, 6, 67–73.
- Profenno, L. A., Porsteinsson, A. P., and Faraone, S. V, Meta-Analysis of Alzheimer’s Disease Risk with Obesity, Diabetes, and Related Disorders. Biol. Psychiatry, 2010, 67, 505–512.
- Morris, M. C., Tangney, C. C., Wang, Y., et al., MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer’s and Dement., 2015, 11, 1007–1014.