5 ways to reduce your Alzheimer's risk

16 September 2016

Interview with

Dr Louise Walker, Alzheimer's Soceity

Although all this research sounds promising, drug development takes time. FromRaspberries the discovery of a potential compound through to drugs hitting the market, it can take decades. In the meantime then, we need to be thinking about what you and I can do to reduce our risk. Louise Walker talked Chris Smith through her top 5 tips... 

Louise - Yes. To start off with I want to make clear that the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is age, and that Alzheimer's disease is thought to be due to a complex mixture of age, genetics, lifestyle and environment. However, there are things that people can do to reduce their risk of the condition. My number one tip is physical activity. So do exercise as much as you can, particularly if you're in mid-life.

Chris - But why does that help a brain problem? Louise:: It's thought to help things like induce blood flow to the brain, maybe to help boost the immune system. And there is some quite exciting research that indicates if you exercise it might help to clear them out of the brain although, obviously, the research is still ongoing there.

Chris - That's your number one tip - take up exercise, which is good for a range of different health disorders and potential health risks. What's number two?

Louise - Number two is eat a healthy, balanced diet. The one that we think there's most evidence for is the mediterranean diet. So, this is one that's high in vegetables, high in fruit, cereals, legumes, quite a lot of oily fish, and low in red meat, dairy and sugar. And, again, that's generally thought to be because it might help to boost brain activity through boosting the immune system - just improving blood flow, things like that.

Chris - And those things are more likely to fur up blood vessels aren't they? So if you reduce them.

Louise - Yes. High sugar....

Chris - What about this claim that people in India who eat a lot of curry and, therefore, have a lot of turmeric, which has got the anti-oxidant curcumin in it - what about the claim that that's protective against Alzheimer's? Is that a myth or is that true?

Louise - At the moment there's not a lot of evidence for turmeric as a way to prevent Alzheimer's disease. People have made that observation but...

Chris - I was just hoping you see because I'm quite partial to a curry.

Louise - People have made that observation but it hasn't shown any benefit. But there are things that curcumin has quite low bioavailabilities so, if you eat it, it doesn't really get into your brain very much. So there's currently not much evidence for that. And there's things about cultural aspects of living in India which might be why Alzheimer's appears to be lower in that population.

Chris - And the next thing on your list?

Louise - The next thing on my list is to stop smoking. This is mostly because smoking is very damaging to blood vessels and there's a lot of evidence showing that blood vessels raises your risk, particularly of vascular dementia, but maybe of Alzheimer's disease as well. So, if you are a smoker, there's evidence actually that if you stop at any age, it will help to reduce your risk.

Chris - And the next one?

Louise - The next one is to manage certain conditions. These include diabetes; if you do have diabetes make sure that you manage your condition well. And another condition you should keep in check is high blood pressure, because high blood pressure, again, it increases your risk of dementia, particularly vascular dementia, possibly Alzheimer's disease as well. So, if you know you have one of these conditions, make sure you manage them, make sure you get your blood pressure checked regularly, particularly again, if you're in middle age when you're most vulnerable to these processes that cause Alzheimer's disease.

Chris - And number five?

Louise - Number five is one that's a little bit less evidence-based but it's quite a nice one. So, if you try and keep as mentally and socially active as you can: doing maybe crossword puzzles, jigsaws, make sure your go out with your friends a lot. There's a few specially tailored brain training games that - lots of trials have been happening now - and they're starting to show that maybe there's some evidence that if you do these on a regular basis that you might be able to reduce your risk of dementia. I should just point out that these are very particular games made by scientists, not your average brain training computer games.

Chris - It works in mice thought and rats, doesn't it? If you give them a rich environment in which to grow, and you give them toys to play with, they succumb to these sorts of brain eroding illnesses at a later date than if they have a boring existence with less mental stimulation.

Louise - Yes, but we always have to remember, as always, in these kinds of things, how things work in mice doesn't necessarily work that way in people. So there's quite a lot of work going on now to try and found out if people keep mentally and socially active, whether they reduce the risk or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. So it's quite exciting research and we are hoping to see some results coming out on some of those trials soon.

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