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Combating Alzheimer’s Risks: What Can You Control?

There’s no surefire way to predict who will develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Some of the risk factors are entirely out of our control, while others can be affected by our lifestyles and habits. Let’s take a look at what we can and can’t do to prevent Alzheimer’s.


The most obvious risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age: Your chances of developing Alzheimer’s increase as you grow older. Early-onset Alzheimer’s, defined as affecting people under the age of 65, is relatively uncommon, accounting for only about 5% of all cases. 

Sometimes early-onset Alzheimer’s runs in a family. The risk is wired right into your genes. But even if you know you have a gene that puts you at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s, you can still take an active stance. One option is to participate in a research study: There are many promising trials being held. And know that while your genes may increase your risk, genes alone will not determine if you’ll develop the disease. Healthy lifestyle habits always make sense for someone who knows they carry a gene associated with Alzheimer’s.

Even though Alzheimer’s risk goes up with age, there is so much you can do to work toward prevention. Adopt wellness routines that reduce high blood pressure, and work against cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It turns out that a healthy body supports a healthy brain. 

Similarly, gender and ethnicity come with different risks for Alzheimer’s disease.  Many of those risks can be mitigated with education and behavioral changes. For example, the higher incidence of Alzheimer’s in some ethnic groups is related to some indirect risk factors, such as a higher incidence of heart disease,  stroke or diabetes. These are diseases that can be influenced by carefully planned wellness routines and by addressing diet and exercise.

Many risk factors for Alzheimer’s are more directly in our control. The trouble is that reducing them can feel like hard work, especially at the beginning before you’ve established good habits. But the good news is that controlling your risks comes with extended benefits: The same measures that help prevent Alzheimer’s also help prevent many other diseases.

The good news is that controlling your risks comes with extended benefits: The same measures that help prevent Alzheimer’s also help prevent many other diseases.

Quit smoking. This is the first thing you can do. It’s simple, if not easy. Smoking harms the blood vessels in the brain—not just in the heart and lungs. There are many methods to choose from to help you quit, from medication to support groups. Start with the American Lung Association to find resources.

Improve your diet. Eating a healthy diet contributes to the health of the whole body, and while diet plans differ, the general advice is the same: Eat meals rich in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy proteins and fats. As with the project of quitting smoking, the key to success here is to find what works for you. Remember that for an eating style to be effective, it must be sustainable. This is not the place for fad diets or extremely restrictive diets. Too much alcohol, too, can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s. Consider cutting down if this is a factor for you.

Exercise your brain. This one should be fun. Don’t force yourself to do crossword puzzles if they’re not up your alley. Anything that gives your mind a workout is beneficial. Do you like reading novels? How about trying your hand at writing one? If you like listening to music, consider taking up an instrument. You don’t have to join an orchestra to get a lot of joy out of making your own music. Adopt passive therapies like 40Hz lights to rejuvenate healthy brain function. I think of this as a vitamin for your brain.

Exercise your body. Like a healthy diet, this one has innumerable health benefits besides its role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Start easy and build up your tolerance gradually. Make at least part of your exercise routine aerobic (increasing your heartbeat). Above all, remember that if you can find an exercise you enjoy, you’re much more likely to stick with it. 

There’s no guarantee that you can prevent yourself from developing Alzheimer’s. Instead, it’s best to think in terms of combating risks and working toward prevention. You will find that the same measures you take to reduce your risks of Alzheimer’s will bring many benefits to your physical, mental, and even emotional health.