How to Help Your Aging Parents Avoid Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s. In just a matter of decades it’s gone from being almost entirely unheard of to being the most common type of dementia among older adults. A progressive disorder that damages and, over time, kills brain cells, Alzheimer’s can lead to behavioral changes, memory loss and the inability to complete simple everyday activities such as grocery shopping, cooking or even just speaking to a friend.

Scientists for years have been scrambling to figure out what causes Alzheimer’s. Once thought to be solely a hereditary disease, research is starting to show that this isn’t entirely true. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is caused by a variety of factors including lifestyle, environment, and age in addition to familial Alzheimer’s and existing high-risk gene sequencing.

So what does this mean exactly? It means that while there are still uncontrollable factors such as age and genetics, there are factors that we DO have control over that research supports as having an impact on the development of this disease. However, lifestyle changes are not easy to make, and often times it is up to adult children to ensure that their parents are following through with them.

Here is a short list of tips backed by research that you can use to help keep your parents from developing Alzheimer’s.

Tip #1 – Keep the Heart Healthy

The biggest piece of advice experts are giving is to make sure your parents take care of their hearts. Your heart is what keeps your brain nourished and running efficiently. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, issues such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and high cholesterol are all extremely important to monitor, especially if Alzheimer’s runs in your family. These health issues are heavily influenced by proper nutrition and regular exercise.  Make it a point to sit down with your parents to talk to them about the importance of heart health. After each visit with the doctor, tell them to write down blood pressure and cholesterol levels to effectively monitor any changes.

Tip #2 – Encourage Regular Exercise

Exercise is another factor that studies find to be an extremely influential factor in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Not only will it aid in keeping your parents’ hearts healthy, but exercise actually increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain, keeping the brain stimulated and cells properly nourished. What can your parents do for exercise? Whether it’s walking, swimming, biking or yoga, help your parents find an exercise that they enjoy and make sure they stick with it.

Tip #3 – Make Social Plans

Keeping your parents socially active is another easy way to help prevent Alzheimer’s and any form of cognitive decline. Scientists are unsure as to why remaining socially active has such a positive impact on our brains; however there is no denying the correlation. Some experts believe it’s because social interactions stimulate the brain and strengthen the connections between nerve cells. Whatever the case may be, make it a point to see your parents as often as possible. If you live out of state, try to make sure they see their friends on a weekly basis, or encourage them to join a senior center or consider moving into a community with other people their age.

Tip #4 – Prevent Falls

As parents age, falls become a huge threat to their well-being.  Regardless of how healthy your parent appears, these accidents can happen to anyone, and research shows a strong link between head injuries and Alzheimer’s, especially if there was a loss of consciousness. You can help prevent future head injuries by fall-proofing your parent’s home, removing low hanging lights and objects in their homes and encouraging them to wear their seat belts in the event of a car accident. Take a look at our Home Safety Checklist for a quick and easy guide to keeping your parents’ home safe.

Tip #5 – Make Sleep a Priority

Ensuring your parents are getting the proper amount of sleep each night is more important than you think. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found that loss of sleep may increase the buildup of plaque-forming beta amyloid in the brain. Additionally, the development of sleep problems may be the earliest sign of Alzheimer’s, possibly appearing 10-20 years before disease detection and even before memory loss and cognitive decline begin to show.

For any disease, early detection is paramount to allow for the best possible treatment. Ask your parents to keep a journal next to their bed and have them write down the amount of times they woke up during the night as well as the approximate times they went to bed and woke up. Have them take it to their doctor appointments so any abnormal sleep habits can be recorded and properly monitored.

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For more information about this disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.

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