Reducing your risk of Alzheimer's

Published on September 14, 2021

Reducing your risk of Alzheimer's

Man running in the parkIf you already have early signs of cognitive decline like memory loss, episodes of confusion or disorientation, visit us at Lawrence Neurology Specialists or give us a call at 785-505-5020 to see how we can help.

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According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this disease, commonly recognized by a purple ribbon, affects more than six million Americans. Dr. Robert Beck, with Lawrence Neurology Specialists, says there are ways to be proactive in your health and help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

“I have patients who come to me fearing the worst,” Dr. Beck says. “They see friends and family who have Alzheimer’s or start to develop it and they worry about themselves and their risk. You get to retirement age and retire to enjoy life, but then your brain fails you. It is completely understandable why people have these fears!”

Dr. Robert Beck

Dr. Robert Beck

Dr. Beck said there has been a lot of research conducted that proves modifying risks such as diabetes and hypertension and leading a healthy lifestyle can prevent Alzheimer’s from occurring at a younger age.

“Rather than developing this disease at 80, with lifestyle changes, for some people, it could be 100-years-old instead,” Dr. Beck said. “The earlier you start with these healthy life choices, the better. However, it is never too late to start. Several studies have suggested that adhering to healthy lifestyles may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 60 percent."

Living a health lifestyle

So what does a healthy lifestyle look like? It varies from person to person and it is important to have regular visits with your primary care provider to monitor your health. Dr. Beck said there are some things that can quite dramatically reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s:

  • Eating a healthy, minimally processed plant-centered diet like the MIND Diet, a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH Diets.
  • Maintaining an ideal body weight
  • Exercising by walking about 30-45 minutes a day
  • Optimizing your career - the more complicated your job, often, the less likely it is you will get Alzheimer's
  • Finding something you love to do and socializing with others
  • Continuing to learn and develop new skills even after retirement

“There is a fair chance we can put off Alzheimer’s, not with a drug, but with quality of life,” Dr. Beck said. “For those who are retirees, it is so important to get into a schedule and add variety into it. We are all creatures of habit and this can sound overwhelming to some, but it can be so beneficial.”

Staying active and engaged

He said he is always enthused by his patients who have retired, start to notice memory issues and then go back to school and get an associate’s degree or take a few engaging classes and their memory improves.

“I tell my patients when they retire, they need to do something to keep their brains engaged,” Dr. Beck said. “Believe me, I understand if you have worked since you were young the last thing you want your doctor telling you is to keep working to decrease your likeliness of getting Alzheimer’s. However, do something fun! Start a career you’ve always wanted to try. Go take a history class you never took and want to learn more about. Do something you enjoy that challenges you, but don’t just stay inside and ‘relax’ your life away.”

He said that how you would want your child to learn is how you should also learn. If it wouldn’t work for your kid, it won’t work for you.

“If your kid came home and you asked what they learned in math and language studies over the last semester and they replied ‘all we did was Sudoku and crossword puzzles for 20 minutes a day’ would you be satisfied with that,” Dr. Beck asked. “I would be calling the teacher mad, knowing my kid is going to fall behind if this is all they do.”

These simple games train only a very small part of the brain. While these games can be useful, they pale in comparison to what one could learn from a more comprehensive language or math course. Dr. Beck recalls a patient who took a foreign language class and reported that her memory improved rather than declined over the time she was taking the class.

NEURO plan

Dr. Beck works with his patients to develop what he calls a “NEURO plan”, which he borrowed from Drs. Ayesha and Dean Sherzari. This plan, though tailored to each patient, typically includes pieces about:

  • Nutrition, maintaining an ideal body weight and cutting out CRAP (Calorie rich and processed) foods
  • Exercise
  • Unwind with meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Restore by identifying the best conditions for sleep
  • Optimize cognitive abilities with lifelong learning

Lawrence is chock-full with opportunities to learn and be active. We have free gyms, classes at the KU REC, KU classes for older people and activities that happen often.”

“Start early if you can,” he said. “If you are reading this and you are younger, start now even before you have sigs of Alzheimer’s. Get involved in your community and keep yourself healthy.

Jessica BrewerStory by Jessica Thomas

Jessica is the Social Media & Digital Communications Specialist at LMH Health.