EDITORIAL: Five ways to ward off Alzheimer’s

A healthy lifestyle pays off enormously, researchers conclude for the first time. Even for those who face a high genetic risk

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A woman exercises in Humboldt Park, Tuesday afternoon, May 1, 2018.

A woman exercises in Humboldt Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The latest research on Alzheimer’s is clear: We have a lot of power to stave off the disease, even if we’re genetically predisposed to it.

Plenty of aging Baby Boomers are fearful of developing some form of dementia, or age-related brain decline, which now affects 50 million people worldwide. But there’s hopeful news from scientists at Rush University Medical Center, who found that adopting just five healthy behaviors can drastically cut a person’s chances of eventually developing Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. And these are the habits we all should adopt to cut our risk of developing it, according to the Rush report of findings from two long-term studies of 2,765 older Chicagoans:

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  • Eat a healthy diet. That means cut out the red meat, butter, cheese, sweets and fried foods and focus on a diet of vegetables, nuts, berries, grains, beans, seafood, poultry and olive oil.
  • Exercise regularly, which means at least 150 minutes per week. Gardening and yard work count.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Drink alcohol sparingly. Limit your intake to one glass of wine per day.
  • Engage in mentally stimulating activities, like crossword puzzles or chess.

Study participants who adopted four or five of these healthy habits were 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who only adopted one, or none, of the habits, the Rush researchers found.

Meanwhile, researchers in the United Kingdom found that a healthy lifestyle — healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, limited alcohol — paid off even for people who are at a high genetic risk of developing the disease. The long-term study of over 196,000 adults age 60 and over found that the risk of dementia was 32 per cent lower in people with a high genetic risk but a healthy lifestyle, compared to participants with an unhealthy lifestyle.

There’s no cure yet for Alzheimer’s. Scientists are closing in on a blood test for the disease that potentially could be used as a screening tool during routine medical exams.

For now, there’s plenty we can do to put the odds of avoiding dementia in our favor.

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