Reduce the risk of Alzheimer's in old age

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Measures to stay mentally fit in old age: Reduce the risk of Alzheimer's in old age

There are no guarantees or miracle cures to rule out the risk of Alzheimer's disease. But there are ways to at least reduce this risk. Exercise for body and mind, healthy eating and socializing can help you to stay mentally fit even in old age.

Number of people with dementia is increasing The life expectancy of people, especially in industrialized countries, is increasing steadily. While this is gratifying, it also increases the risk that there will be more and more people with dementia in the future. The most common form of irreversible dementia is Alzheimer's. Konrad Beyreuther, Director of the Network for Aging Research at Heidelberg University, says: "You only have to get old enough to develop Alzheimer's." According to a Swedish study published in July, this happens every five years in the over 65 age group a doubling of Alzheimer's cases. But even if there are no miracle cures for incurable brain disorders, the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's can be significantly reduced.

Four building blocks for mental fitness in old age Beyreuther explains: "Lifestyle plays a very important role in all diseases that are related to aging - and this includes Alzheimer's disease." The non-profit Alzheimer Research Initiative e. V. (AFI) explains that there are four major building blocks that form the foundation for mental fitness in old age. The often recommended memory training only plays a subordinate role. Rather, exercise, healthy eating, constant learning and conviviality are advised. The following measures could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's:

Physical exercise The most important and most effective preventive measure against dementia is physical fitness. Those who exercise a lot also stimulate blood flow to the brain, supply it with oxygen and thus improve concentration and memory. Ellen Wiese, board member of the Alzheimer Research Initiative e.V., told “People who are not physically active suffer more from mental degradation or have an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Studies speak of up to 70 percent. ”It is therefore advisable to exercise a lot, for example to walk the stairs more often, leave the car behind and take 30 minutes a day for moderate sports. Endurance sports such as jogging, walking, swimming or cycling are good for the heart and also have a positive effect on the brain. It also prevents high blood pressure, which increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

Healthy eating In addition to physical exercise, Wiese from AFI also recommends good nutrition as a preventive measure: “As with sport, so also with food: what is good for the heart also helps the mind.” Scientists therefore recommend healthy Mediterranean cuisine as a guide: lots of fruits and vegetables, often fish (especially salmon, cod and mackerel), legumes, cereals, olive oil, nuts, sometimes milk products, occasionally poultry and rarely red meat. A long-term study would have shown that the more consistently a traditional Mediterranean cuisine was practiced, the lower the risk of Alzheimer's. And cognitive performance would have slowed down the more slowly. Nevertheless, one should take some liberties: "When using the healthy Mediterranean diet, nobody has to do without his Sunday roast," says Gunter Eckert, head of the "Nutritional Neuroscience" working group at the Pharmacological Institute at the University of Frankfurt.

Adequate supply of B vitamins B vitamins, especially folic acid, are particularly effective in preventing Alzheimer's. Because they break down homocysteine, a metabolic product that everyone has in their blood and that makes a decisive contribution to calcification of the arteries and thus causes the brain to age more intensely. People with high homocysteine ​​levels double the risk of developing Alzheimer's. To get enough vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid, you can use oranges, bananas, cherries, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, mushrooms, whole grains, the fish, eggs and milk products already mentioned. In addition, green and black tea is recommended. Because it can prevent the formation of plaques, deposits in the brain, and dissolve existing plaques. Ms. Wiese from AFI referred to the mixture that was necessary: ​​"It is not a question of eating individual healthy foods, which alone do nothing when it comes to the risk of Alzheimer's." And further: "Rather, it is the balance the nutrition that plays a central role. "

Memory training alone does not help In order to remain productive over the long term, the brain, like the muscles, must be trained. In the human mind, the more synapses are formed and the more neurons are connected, the more it is required. However, memory training alone does not help. "Exercise gains here are limited in time and there is no evidence of long-term effects on other relevant performance areas," said Valentina Tesky, psychologist at the University of Frankfurt. Therefore, activities with a high level of mental activity are required to prevent Alzheimer's. To keep the brain busy, one could learn a language and, above all, speak it regularly, play chess or bridge, play music, read, paint, visit museums, play memory with children or grandchildren. The focus should be on fun and, according to Tesky, it makes sense to vary the level of difficulty of the requirements. However, what is not one of the intellectual activities is television. There is even suspicion that above-average TV consumption increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

Living together promotes well-being Social contacts are the fourth important building block in Alzheimer's prevention. The measures mentioned so far are interconnected and the motto is: Experience together! So: cook together, eat together, move together, learn together. This creates added value for the individual activities and promotes well-being. Social contact is very important for the brain as well as for general health. Those living alone have a twice as high risk of developing Alzheimer's than people in partnerships. The result of a 2010 US study found that loneliness was just as harmful as smoking, high blood pressure or being overweight.

Creating social contacts in old age However, especially in old age, the number of social contacts often decreases, the social network gets holes or gradually dissolves completely. "Then commitment is necessary to find a new circle of friends," says AFI's Ellen Wiese. "Even those who like to be alone should ensure their own social balance," says the expert. There are enough possibilities, one only has to find people who have similar interests. For example, about membership in an association, attending a dance school, volunteer work or vacationing with a tour group.

Promotes the quality of life Even if all of the activities mentioned can help prevent Alzheimer's disease, they are not a guarantee. But a healthy lifestyle can make a significant contribution to mental fitness. It also promotes quality of life, because enjoyment, variety and fun should always be a top priority. Therefore, Alzheimer's prevention can not only be sensible, but also very pleasant. (ad)

Image: Sigrid Rossmann /

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