What if you could find out whether you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s disease—long before you or your friends and family start to notice any changes in your memory or behavior?
Well according to new research, there’s a simple cognitive test that can do just that. Until now, the only way to determine whether early Alzheimer’s-related changes were occurring in the brain was through expensive biological tests.
But researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California just conducted a study that could make that information much easier to get.
They analyzed the results of 61 studies to see whether neuropsychological tests could detect early Alzheimer’s in people over 50. These tests are intended to evaluate the relationship between the brain, behavior, and an individual’s ability to function. Testing methods include asking a subject to recall words, name objects, follow commands, draw shapes, and several variations of mind-based tasks.
The review found that the people who had amyloid plaques—the clusters of protein in the brain that are a hallmark of early Alzheimer’s—tested differently than people without them. Cognitive function, language, processing speed, working memory, and attention all tended to be a little off in the people whose brains were starting to show Alzheimer’s signs.
Those changes weren’t noticeable in everyday life, though. Just in the tests.
So why is that important? Because making these sorts of tests widely available does two things.
First, it makes it possible for everyone over the age of 50 to get a baseline measurement. Later on if they start to wonder if they’re slipping, they’ll have something to compare themselves against.
Second, earlier detection means more time to make changes to protect the brain. There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But there are definitely ways to protect yourself against it and even slow it down if it does occur. And the sooner you can start, the better.
I’ve written in detail about protecting brain health before (the full article can be found in the May 2016 issue of Logical Health Alternatives), but here are some of the key steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Stay active. There’s not a single area of your health that exercising won’t improve—and that includes brain health. Research has shown that regular exercise not only reduces Alzheimer’s symptoms, but can also improve overall cognition.
- Watch your blood sugar. According to a huge study (over 350,000 participants), poor blood sugar control increases dementia risk by a whopping 50 percent. If you’re following the eating guidelines I offer in The A-List Diet, you’re on the right track to managing your blood sugar. (For more details on my A-List Diet, go to my website at www.AListDietBook.com.)
- Curb inflammation. Research suggests that your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s may hinge on your microcirculation. That’s the network of tiny blood vessels that carry blood (and oxygen and nutrients) throughout your body—including to your brain. One of the key ways to keep your microcirculation humming is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, like The A-List Diet. Start by cutting out foods that promote inflammation—namely, sugar, white flour, and simple carbohydrates. Instead, focus on anti-inflammatory foods like organic produce, lean, organic, grass-fed and -finished protein, and healthy monounsaturated fats like macadamia nut oil.
- Avoid toxins. Here it is again…are you starting to see a theme in this issue? It just shows you how devastating toxins are to your health. In fact, one study attributed 30 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases to environmental factors. The researchers listed heavy metals, pesticides, insecticides, and air pollution among the chief culprits. Other research has found that nitrogen-based fertilizers, commonly used on conventional crops, are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s. In addition to going organic and reducing toxin exposure whenever possible, I recommend quarterly detoxes. They’ll equip your body to deal with the toxins it does encounter. (My no-fuss strategy for detoxing your body can be found in my September 2013 issue of Logical Health Alternatives.)
- Stay social. Isolation is bad for the brain. Research shows that maintaining a large social network is linked to better cognition and less dementia risk.
- Exercise your brain. Mental stimulation—crossword puzzles, brain teasers, or just learning new things—can help keep your brain sharp. In one study published by the Cochrane Library, researchers noted that mentally stimulating activities improved memory and thinking in people with mild to moderate dementia. The improvements were equivalent to delaying decline by six to nine months.
For now, neuropsychological checkups aren’t part of the standard annual exam. But if you’re concerned about Alzheimer’s (as we all should be), it might be worth asking your doctor about getting a baseline cognitive test. Either way, though, making the changes I mentioned above will only help. Not only with brain health, but with every aspect of your life.
“Detecting Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms emerge.” Science Daily (www.sciencedaily.com), 5/31/17
“Social Network, Cognitive Function, and Dementia Incidence Among Elderly Women” American Journal of Public Health 2017; 98(7): 1,221-1,227
“Cognitive stimulation to improve cognitive functioning in people with dementia.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15;(2):CD005562.