Terrifying for those affected and heartbreaking for those who love them, Alzheimer’s disease is something many of us fear.
The complex and debilitating condition is associated with a gradual decline in brain function, and ultimately comes with a terminal diagnosis.
But the condition isn’t always fully understood, which means there is still a great deal of stigma surrounding it.
Just this morning it was revealed that Dame Barbara Windsor has been battling the disease for quite some time.
Her family made the decision to speak about her diagnosis in the hope that talking about the condition will raise awareness of the risks and make it easier for others to open up about their own experiences.
“We were saddened to hear that Barbara Windsor has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease – but we applaud her husband Scott’s decision to speak out about her condition,” Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said.
“Stigma around dementia still exists, and many people are facing it in the shadows. ‘Babs’, a true cultural icon, is much loved, and speaking out about her experiences will no doubt shine as a beacon for others wanting to live well with dementia.”
Alzheimer’s Society research shows that 850,000 people in the UK have a form of dementia – mostly known for the effect it has on someone’s cognitive and functional abilities.
By 2021, 1 million people will be living with the condition. This will soar to two million by 2051.
What’s more dementia deaths are rising year on year and 225,000 will develop dementia this year alone, scarily that’s one every three minutes.
Sufferers’ symptoms can include memory loss, difficulty completing daily tasks and changes in mood and personality.
While it’s true to say the condition mainly affects those over 65, there are still things you can do to help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s…
Up the exercise
Just one more reason to get to the gym. “Exercise bulks up existing neurons, expedites neuronal growth and improves communication between brain cells,” explains Judy Pa, assistant professor of neurology at the USC Mark.
Older adults should be aiming for at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week and two or more days per week of resistance training, according to guidelines from the surgeon general.
“Think of exercise as a bank account: What you do now strengthens your cognitive resilience later in life,” Pa said. “It’s never too early, or too late, to start making healthy lifestyle choices.”
Sharpen your mind with spinach
Spinach is a good source of folic acid and vitamin C, both of which are needed for the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. “Spinach, like other green vegetables, is also a source of chlorophyll, which may favour the absorption of iron and promote red blood cell growth, to improve oxygen transport around the body and to the brain,” explains Dr Marilyn Glenville, leading UK Nutritionist and author of Natural Solutions to Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Get more sleep
According to studies older adults should be getting six to eight hours of consistent sleep
“Too little sleep increases your risk for Alzheimer’s because beta-amyloid protein is cleared away during sleep when your cerebrospinal fluid washes out toxins from your body,” explains Marilyn.
“Sleep also gives the brain and body time to restore and reboot,” adds Judy Pa.
“During sleep, your brain consolidates new information from the day and files items away into the right ‘brain cabinets.'”
Pa suggests practicing “sleep hygiene” to get quality sleep. That means keep your eyes away from screens like TVs, tablets and smartphones. “In today‘s busy, high-tech world, it’s crucial we give our minds and bodies adequate rest.”
Boost brainpower with Beetroot
Beetroot contains nitrates, which convert to nitric oxide in the body. “Nitric oxide is a natural vasodilator (relaxes and opens up the blood vessels), favouring circulation and improving delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, including the brain,” explains Nutritionist and Fitness Instructor Cassandra Barns.
“Beetroot is also thought to stimulate the production of red blood cells, which is also helpful for oxygen transport and delivery,” she adds.
Nurture brain health with vitamin B
Research suggests that the B vitamins play an important role in fighting against age-related cognitive decline. “Most B vitamins can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat and fish,” explains Cassandra. “Vitamin B12 however, is found only in animal foods, so if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you may be lacking in this vitamin.” Cassandra recommends a supplement such as Natures Plus Source of Life Garden Vitamin B12 (£17.50, www.naturesplus.co.uk).
“It provides an effective dose of B12 in the active form of methylcobalamin, meaning it can be easily used by the body. It also provides a range of other B vitamins, which work together with vitamin B12 to give us energy,” she explains.
Healthy eating can delay ageing in the brain and body, explains Valter Longo, professor of biological sciences at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
The Mediterranean diet – plant-based foods such as nuts, legumes, fruit, vegetables, whole grains – has also been associated with reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Researchers at the Weill Cornell Medicine centre, in New York, followed 70 patients over three years, they found that those eating a Western-style diet had a slower brain metabolism and increased number of Alzheimer’s signs in their brains than those who consumed the Mediterranean diet.
Up the Omega 3 for better brain health
“A poor diet can age your brain by not providing enough of the right nutrients to nourish and protect it,” explains Cassandra Barns. “Omega-3 DHA from oily fish is vital for our brain structure and is essential for our nerves, and antioxidants that help to protect and prevent damage. If you don’t eat oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, mackerel or trout – at least two to three times a week, I’d suggest adding a good-quality fish oil supplement to your daily regime, such as Natural Health Practice Omega 3 Support (£29.77, www.naturalhealthpractice.com),” she adds.
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