Evidence-Based Suggestions to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease

A sweeping review indicates that lifestyle factors are important.

Posted Jul 30, 2020

Hunor Kristo/Adobe Stock
Source: Hunor Kristo/Adobe Stock

One in ten Americans older than 65 develops Alzheimer’s disease. While there are medications available to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, there are no treatments to cure the disease or slow its progression.

But a new systematic review from researchers at the University of Shanghai Medical College outlines steps that everyone can take to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The review, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, combines the data from 396 different studies in a large meta-analysis that identifies the lifestyle factors throughout the life course that seem to contribute to or help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors conducted meta-analyses for 134 different risk factors. They note that the studies they reviewed have limitations: For example, they included observational studies, which cannot prove that a particular factor associated with greater risk necessarily causes the increase in risk. But they ultimately provide a total of 21 suggestions, based on the available evidence to date, for helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Among the suggestions are:

  • Older adults should maintain or lose weight to achieve a healthy body mass index; they should not let their BMI fall below healthy levels.
  • Everyone, and especially those older than 65, should participate in regular physical activity.
  • Engage in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, puzzles, and games.      
  • Do not smoke and avoid being in smoky environments.
  • Get enough good quality sleep and seek treatment for sleep problems.
  • Avoid diabetes. If you develop diabetes, maintain careful control of your blood sugar levels.
  • Cerebral vessel disease, or CVD, is a risk factor. Engage in a healthy lifestyle to avoid this disease and take the necessary medications if you develop it.
  • Protect your head from injury.
  • Avoid frailty by focusing on muscle strength later in life.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid high blood pressure and take medications to control high blood pressure if needed.
  • Depression is a risk factor. If you experience a mental health condition, seek treatment.
  • Atrial fibrillation is a risk factor. The best way to avoid it is to maintain good cardiovascular health. If you experience atrial fibrillation, take the required medications.
  • Relax your mind and avoid daily stress.
  • Receive as much education as possible in early life.
  • Have a regular blood test to check your homocysteine level. If levels rise, consider vitamin B and/or folic acid supplements.
  • Make sure your diet includes plenty of Vitamin C or take a Vitamin C supplement.

In addition, two new studies presented this week at the Alzheimer Association’s International Conference provide evidence that getting at least one flu vaccination was associated with a 17 percent reduction in developing Alzheimer’s disease, and more frequent flu vaccinations were associated with even greater reductions. For study participants between ages 65 and 75, receiving the pneumonia vaccine corresponded with a reduction in Alzheimer’s risk by up to 40 percent. The studies also revealed that people with dementia are twice as likely to die after contracting an infection such as the flu or pneumonia.

The take home message: Alzheimer’s disease can feel like something that is completely out of our own control. But evidence demonstrates that leading a healthy lifestyle and addressing any health problems that do arise may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Visit Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research’s website for more information on our work.