Prevention of Alzheimer's disease is very difficult, as there are many contributors, but no single known cause. Although genetics is a contributor, this does not mean that if Alzheimer's disease has claimed some members of a family, that all the other members will develop it.
If you are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s disease, the best thing to do is to have a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
- Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly to keep your body, including your brain’s nerve cells, in shape.
- Remaining socially and mentally active. Social interaction may be protective.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Omega-3 fatty acids may have a small beneficial effect for some people.
- Avoiding cigarette smoke and air pollution. Steering clear of these substances minimises your exposure to free radicals (highly reactive molecules), which have been implicated in the formation of plaques.
- Alcohol consumption, especially in excess, has been identified as neurotoxic.
High doses of Vitamin E and Ginkgo biloba are no longer recommended.
A recent study links exercise to improvements in memory for those with early short-term memory problems. It was discovered that those who exercised increased the size of their hippocampus (an important part of the brain for memory).
When to see a doctor
If a family member or friend displays signs of Alzheimer’s disease over time, you must call your doctor. The person may have a lack of insight that is characterised by not knowing that he or she has the disease and denying the assistance of other people. Thus, the affected person may have to be persuaded to visit a doctor for help.
What are the causes of Alzheimer's disease?
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?
How is Alzheimer's diagnosed?
(Updated and reviewed by Dr Michael S. Mason, MB ChB, FC Psych (South Africa), Consultant Psychiatrist in private practice, Panorama Psychiatry and Memory Clinic, Cape Town March 2015.)
(Previously reviewed by Dr Frans Hugo, MBChB, M.Med Psychiatry)