Alzheimer’s Disease and your Parents’ Independence

One in nine people age 65 and older will acquire Alzheimer’s—that’s one person every 33 seconds! As we become healthier, our bodies can let us live longer. Unfortunately, that gives Alzheimer’s an even worse odds too, because until now, many simply died before acquiring the disease. By the time many of you (as children of elder parents) reach this age, Alzheimer’s will have tripled from 5.2 to 13.8 million victims. 10 million boomers are bound to get it too. A staggering 50% of nursing home residents have Alzheimer’s.

Twice as many “sandwich” caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s have no experience with the medical and nursing-related tasks necessary to properly manage them, but also feel they have no choice in taking on the role of the caregiver. These kinds of conditions result in lower quality of life and diminished health for these “sandwich” caregivers.

Is there anything we can do to prevent Alzheimer’s? First of all, once Alzheimer’s has set, it may not be too late in its early stages to prevent. However, as the disease advances, more brain damage sets in. You may have heard about the brain “plaques” associated with the disease, which might make you think of teeth plaque. Recent evidence reveals that these plaques may only be a sign of your body’s way to fight the real underlying disease, such as inflammation, or viruses that cause brain damage. However, we are still a long way off from a cure. In the meantime, we know that there are some things we can do to either avoid, postpone, or mitigate it.

Some risk factors and interventions for Alzheimer’s have been identified in the chart below:

Risk Factor or


Positive or Negative Effect With which example strategies can you reduce the risk? Level of evidence
Hypertension exercise/medication/diet Very Good
Other heart health factors Quit smoking Weak
Physical Activity + Aerobic/strength exercises Very Good
Healthy Diet + Avoid eating out too much Good
Diabetes Have doctor check A1c
Low to Moderate alcohol + Max 1 drink daily, perhaps red wine
Heavy alcohol
Brain activity + Learn new things Weak
Social activity + Weak
Medication + Talk to MD: may be more effective in early stages Limited
Sleep + Get 7-8 hours Weak
Age Observational
Genetics +/- Limited
Water + 8 glasses daily Indirect

It appears that exercise and diet may be important factors one can control to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The MIND diet supports this idea. It comes from a study that shows that you can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s as much as 53%, (and even if you don’t follow it rigorously, as much as 35% !)

There are some things the Aquavore diet and the MIND diet both stress: the importance of vegetables and fruits, especially berries. Berries have been shown to reduce the rates of cognitive decline in older adults.

The MIND diet encourages 10 brain healthy groups: green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. It also has 5 unhealthy food groups to avoid: red meat, butter, cheese, sweets, fried and fast foods. The MIND diet also recommends red wine, which contains resveratrol.

You may also have heard that there may be a link between excess aluminum and Alzheimer’s One exciting study actually showed that drinking 1L of (mineral) water daily resulted in the reduction in aluminum levels, perhaps a big step in prevention of the disease. The Aquavore diet stresses good hydration, a well suited approach for overall health too.

So it seems that in general, the same things you do to reduce the chances you or your parents may have of losing their independence and entering a nursing home, obtaining cardiovascular dementia, or experiencing a fall, are suitable to reduce the chances of getting Alzheimer’s, a major player in nursing home admissions, and a devastating disease in general.

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