Could Alzheimer’s Prevention Already Begin In Childhood?

When we think of Alzheimer’s, we tend to associate this disease with the aging population.

This is due to the fact that age is the strongest variable involving the development of this disease. In that sense, individuals in their 40s and 50s are beginning to take proactive measures in order to reduce their risk — but what if we need to begin preventative measures earlier?

According to a new report, avoiding nine key risk factors as early as our childhood could delay or potentially prevent approximately a third of all global dementia cases.

Our Lifestyles Influence Brain Health Throughout Our Lives

At this point in time, there are no proven ways to delay or stop the onset of Alzheimer’s. With that being said, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk, which often relate back to our lifestyle choices.

As we look at the course of our lives, there appear to be key factors from early in life, all the way up to our senior years. By actively making healthy, optimal choices, perhaps we could be more effective at staving off this degenerative disease — if nothing else, it’s a great starting point.

Published in the Lancet, these estimates were based on statistical modeling. Although there are still plenty of unknowns, it’s never too early to live a balanced, active lifestyle. We now know that although dementia is typically diagnosed in later life, it’s development begins years prior.

We need to begin looking at our bodies and minds as a whole unit. In that sense, what’s good for your body, will support a healthy brain. This is especially true regarding the heart and brain. Based on this recent report, here are some of the key variables you need to be aware of:

  • Good education during early childhood.

  • Avoiding high blood pressure.

  • Ensuring a healthy weight — obesity is a key risk factor for many health complications, including dementia.

  • The risks surrounding smoking.

  • The challenges your body and mind face due to diabetes.

  • The damaging effects of depression.

  • The effects of age-related hearing loss.

  • Remaining physically active.

  • The benefits of remaining socially engaged in old age.

It’s estimated that these factors collectively play a role in terms of your brain’s resilience. As you face potential silent damage over the years, these protective factors may help you withstand significant degenerative effects.

The Brain-Heart Connection

Although numerous studies have reported little proof regarding lifestyle factors, it’s important to note that actively caring for your health, may work. After all, many studies have shown a positive correlation between healthy living and a reduced risk. At the very least, it can’t hurt.

This stems back to the connection between heart and neural health. Look at vascular dementia, for instance, a form of dementia that can be triggered by heart attacks and strokes. Once again, having high blood pressure can place you at risk for these health complications, which can then lead to diminishing brain health.

Just recently, a study found that those who take good care of their hearts within their twenties, were more likely to have a healthier brain by the time they reach middle age. Published in Neurology, this study focused on the American Heart Association’s ‘Life’s Simple 7’ — which includes:

  • Keeping cholesterol in check

  • Controlling blood pressure

  • Reducing imbalanced blood sugar

  • Eating healthy

  • Losing weight

  • Not smoking

  • Being physically active

When you think about it, the brain is the largest consumer of oxygen. As your heart pumps faster, say during exercise, you increase oxygen flow to your brain. Within this recent study, this is what they found:

  • A group of 518 participants, around the age of 51, had been tracked for 30 years.

  • At the beginning of the study, health measurements were taken, followed by testing every 2-5 years, followed by a brain scan 25 years later.

  • Participants were scored on a scale of 1-14, regarding how well they followed the ‘Life’s Simple 7’ recommendations.

  • Those who scored high from the beginning showed a higher brain volume during middle age.

  • For every point lower, this represented approximately one year of age-related brain shrinkage.

These participants will continue to be studied, focusing on cardiovascular health across one’s lifetime. It will be interesting to see if any new developments are made based on the heart-brain connection.

The Worst Thing You Can Do, Is Nothing At All

Don’t get too wrapped up in some of the conflicting research. When it all boils down, living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is the best option you currently have. Sitting back and waiting for symptoms to surface, is the worst possible thing you can do. You want to take action today — not in ten years once significant damage has already been done.

I think for many, they see a list of lifestyle factors, and become overwhelmed. If you’re currently overweight and smoke, for instance, it can be a lot to immediately quit smoking, exercise daily, and make changes to your routine diet. That is why I suggest that you start small.

Each day, commit to one goal. Focus on one area at a time, and as you begin to build healthier habits, these will then become part of your daily routine. For example:

  • Tomorrow, go for a one hour walk. Then, commit to that walk 3 days a week.

  • Once that has become part of your weekly routine, focus on cooking nutrient-dense, whole food meals. Begin to educate yourself on the power of nutrition. As a result, your weight will naturally melt away, you’ll have more energy (to exercise), and you’ll likely even sleep better.

  • Each day, cut back on the amount of cigarettes you smoke. When you have a craving, occupy yourself. If you’re reaching for snacks instead of a cigarette, focus on options that fuel your body instead of sabotage it. Get creative — white bean hummus with raw vegetables, pad Thai wraps, homemade granola, or even a quick and easy smoothie.

  • Listen to the motivational material, as you write a ‘to do’ list for yourself. It’s all about visualizing your goals, and then actively working towards them.

Regardless of the areas that require attention in terms of your personal health, it’s all about taking ownership and then positive action. No one will begin this journey for you — it’s your path to take.

It’s clear that some of the choices we make early in life, influence the state of our brain. So, just remember this, “You are NOT a product of your circumstances, but a product of your decisions.”

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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