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Last month I attended the Healthy Brain Aging Risk and Prevention Conference sponsored by Southern Illinois University (SIU) Medicine and their Neuroscience Institute. Conferences and workshops like this one is a great way to get the latest information so I can pass it on to you!! One of the featured speakers Dr. Mehul Trivedi, assistant professor of the Department of Psychiatry at the SIU School of Medicine shared with us that the risk factors for Alzheimer's Disease (AD) that we have no control over are increasing age, family history, and genetics. Women, African-Americans and Hispanic Americans are also at a higher risk of developing AD. But what I found amazing was that 50% of all cases of Alzheimer's Disease are due to modifiable risk factors. These are risk factors that can be altered by a person's lifestyle and health behaviors – things that we have control of!

Many of these modifiable risk factors that Dr. Trivedi and other experts covered that day were the same ones that our family life educators share in their brain health classes. I have also added additional ones spotlighted by the Alzheimer's Association. Let's review:

  • Be physically active – Almost 90% of US citizens do not get enough exercise. Fun fact - as compared to Paleolithic Stone Age people who put in about 24,000 steps a day, the average person today may get around 5,000 steps a day. It is recommended that we get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity in a week and add resistance training twice a week for the most effective combination. Adding exercises that help with flexibility and balance would be even more beneficial.
  • Follow a healthy diet – a good heart-healthy diet is also good for the brain.
  • Be social – do not isolate yourself but routinely visit and stay engaged with friends and family, be involved in the community, volunteer, and/or join a group or club.
  • Take care of your physical health – stop smoking, avoid excess alcohol consumption, visit your health care provider regularly and follow their instructions for care of illnesses, maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure.
  • Get quality sleep – inadequate sleep can make AD worse. Do what you can to get the best sleep possible by changing your sleeping environment (lighting, temperature, etc.), your schedule (when you exercise, eat, go out), and possibly check with your health care provider about pharmacological interventions.
  • Manage stress – use whatever techniques works for you.
  • Challenge your brain – participate in mentally stimulating activities that you enjoy and challenge you.

Worldwide, there are 50 million people with dementia with 10 million new cases every year. Until we find a cure, we can at least work on these modifiable risk factors – and although it is never too late to start, the earlier you start – the better! Midlife is a critical period, so beginning healthy lifestyles as soon as possible will benefit your entire body, including the brain!

Some great websites to check out for more information:

World Health Organization:  www.who.int/mental_health/neurology/dementia/en/

Alzheimer's Association:  www.alz.org

The Dana Foundation:  www.dana.org