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Alzheimer's Disease - reducing your risk

By Andrew McNulty

My beloved nana had Alzheimer's and having seen first-hand how cruel this disease is, I'm keen to do anything I can to avoid it. Doctors don't know exactly what causes it but research has shown there are some things you can do that may be able to keep it at bay. They've got to be worth a try!

Alzheimer's disease was first diagnosed nearly 100 years ago but doctors still don't know just why some people get this form of dementia and others don't. While some of the risk factors for getting it are things we have no control over - such as genes - there are changes we can make to our lifestyles that may help to prevent it. Researchers at the recent International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Hawaii suggested four things we can all do to ward off the condition.

Drink tea and coffee
A daily cuppa may be able to cut down your chances of getting the disease. Scientists from the University of California say that people aged 65-plus who regularly drank tea showed 37% fewer signs of dementia than those who didn't drink any. The study also found that people who drank coffee at least five times a week reduced their memory loss by up to 20% compared to those who give it a miss.

Eat walnuts
These nuts - which are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and the antioxidant vitamin E - may be able to improve brain function, according to researchers from New York. They found mice that ate a diet rich in walnuts could drastically improve their learning and memory abilities. The scientists say this suggests walnuts may be able to delay the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer's and there now needs to be tests carried out on humans to find out if this is the case.

Get moving
A brisk stroll around the block or a game of golf could be good for your brain as well as your body. Elderly people who do "moderate" levels of exercise, such as golf or jogging, could cut their risk of Alzheimer's by up to 40% if results of a study at the Boston University School of medicine are anything to go by. Researchers studied 1200 people with an average age of 76 and concluded physical activity had a major impact on reducing memory loss. This backs up previous evidence that exercise helps to keep your brain healthy. other studies say the physical activity doesn't have to be strenuous - the most important thing is that it is done regularly.

Spend time in the sun
A lack of vitamin D - which principally comes from the sun - may play a part in getting Alzheimer's disease. Scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK studied more than 3300 people over 65 and found that those who had vitamin D deficiencies were nearly five times more likely to get the disease.

Although vitamin D is found in some foods, such as oily fish and eggs, most of it is produced by your body when sunlight hits your skin. A shortage of vitamin D is relatively common, especially in housebound senior citizens and people who live in the South Island.

As with all things, when it comes to your health, moderation is the key, and you shouldn't use trying to ward off Alzheimer's as an excuse for drinking five cups of coffee every day or baking yourself to a crisp in the sun. Doctors say lifestyle factors that are good for your general health are also good for brain health and may help to reduce your chances of getting dementia.

Other tips for keeping alzheimer's at bay include:* *

Being mentally active
Studies show that keeping the brain active seems to help keep brain cells and connections between them working properly. It's thought it may even be possible to generate new brain cells. Reading, writing, doing puzzles, playing games and learning new things may all help to keep your brain healthy.

Being socially active
People who enjoy regular social contact are less likely to get Alzheimer's, according to research, especially if they are also physically and mentally active. one study found that people who did sociable activities like dancing or playing bridge had lower rates of the disease.

Eating a brain-healthy diet
If you're wondering what that is, then the best advice is to follow a diet recommended for good heart health.

Like the heart, the brain needs the right nutrients to function well, and many of these come from foods like fruit, veges, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses and whole grains. Studies show saturated fats that clog your arteries and are bad for your heart are also associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer's.

Maintaining a healthy body weight
A long-term study of 1500 adults found those who were obese when they were middle-aged were twice as likely to develop dementia when they became elderly. Those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure were six times more likely to get Alzheimer's.

Going pear-shaped
Women with big bottoms may have a greater risk of memory loss than those who carry excess weight around their tummies. Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago studied 9000 women, looking at how their weight affected their mental skills as they aged. They found the heavier you are, the worse your memory gets as you become older. But in particular, women who carried their weight around their hips, bottom and thighs (pear-shaped) had more memory problems than apple-shaped women who have pot bellies.

It's already known that apple-shaped women have a greater risk of conditions like heart disease than pear shaped women. But it was news to learn that excess fat around the hips may play a part in memory loss. Scientists say stored body fat releases hormones that can affect various aspects of our health and this study suggests it is where it is located that makes the difference. The Chicago team says there needs to be more research, but in the meantime the best advice is to try to lose any excess kilos, no matter where you carry them, and maintain a healthy body weight.

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