As we age, our brains might start to get less sharp, making it harder to learn new things or remember key events. And for some, that cognitive decline could be significant, in some rarer cases leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s, there are more drug failures than successes. On average about 99 percent of all drugs in clinical trials never actually make it to approval, and drugs are still failing late-stage trials in 2017. But there are other ways to decrease your risk of getting the disease.
We spoke with Neurotrack CEO Elli Kaplan, whose company recently launched an online assessment that helps people understand the state of their memory health, to learn about some of the ways you can potentially decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline more broadly.
The company also provides a program that can be used to prevent some of that cognitive decline.
Here’s what the science has to say about the best ways to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.
1. Pay attention to the food you eat.
The right diet can contribute to lowering your risk of cognitive decline – in particular a diet called the MIND diet, short for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay”.
It’s a hybrid version of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, focusing on the aspects of those diets that have to do with the brain.
Berries, olive oil, nuts, and dark, leafy greens are staples of the diet, which was designed based on large-scale studies of cognitive decline and ranked third on US News and World Report’s annual best diet list.
A study of almost 1,000 seniors found that the diet appeared to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s by 35 percent for those who followed it moderately and by 53 percent in people who followed it closely.
Plus, it fits in with what Maria Carrillo, chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association told Business Insider in July:
“Have fun, eat healthy meals that are good for you, and you may end up helping your brain as well as your heart.”
2. Stay active.
Citing intervention-based trials and epidemiological studies, the US National Institute on Ageing found that exercise can also play a key role in reducing your risk for Alzheimer’s and general cognitive decline.
Neurotrack’s program recommends strength training and cardiovascular exercises, said Kaplan.
Exercise can have additional health benefits as well, adding to the idea that what’s good for your heart and body may also be good for your brain.
3. Decrease your stress levels where possible.
There is evidence to suggest a link between stress and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.
A small 2009 study found that of the 41 participants with mild cognitive impairment, those who had higher stress ratings also had faster rates of cognitive decline.
The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to manage stress, such as breathing exercises, meditation and yoga.
4. Maintain healthy sleep habits.
Too little sleep can do a whole host of things to your body and brain.
A 2014 review of observational studies found that poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.
Though the researcher said there needs to be more research into the exact mechanisms of why that is, they concluded that “healthy sleep appears to play an important role in maintaining brain health with age, and may play a key role in [Alzheimer’s disease] prevention”.
5. Stay socially active.
That social component is something Neurotrack is working hard to address, said Kaplan. The company has plans to build an internal social network.
Since the assessment launched in December 2016, she said she’d seen thousands join a private Facebook group to chat about their results.
Kaplan said there’s even one group in New Zealand that has started meeting up for coffee after they took the assessment.
Staying social can be a great way to lower your risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.
According to the National Institute on Ageing, staying cognitively active, either with intellectual stimulation or staying socially engaged, is linked with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.
6. Read, play games, or otherwise stimulate your mind.
Along the lines of social engagement, staying stimulated intellectually has also been associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.
That kind of stimulation can be anything from reading to crossword puzzles or attending lectures and playing memory-based games, according to the National Institute on Ageing.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.