The statistics are frightening.
"Every seventy seconds, another American gets Alzheimer's disease, and by mid-century, a new case will develop every thirty seconds," writes Dr. Gary Small in his latest book, The Alzheimer's Prevention Program—Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life, with Gigi Vorgan [Workman, 2012]. "Currently, 36 million people worldwide suffer from the disease. By 2050 we can expect 115 million cases of Alzheimer's."
And as baby boomers approach 65, what Small calls "the Alzheimer's Fear Factor" takes hold, making many feel overwhelmed with what seems to be an advancing tidal wave. But though there's no cure for Alzheimer's Disease (AD), Small, a renowned expert on aging and dementia and a professor and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, says lifestyle choices can significantly help delay the disease's onset even for those who have a genetic predisposition (one in five people carry the gene type APOE–4 that increases the risk of AD) for the disease.
"Making healthy life choices really does diminish the chances of developing Alzheimer's or at least putting off the onset," says Small, who believes scientists will ultimately find a definitive cure for AD, and by staving off the symptoms we buy ourselves time until that happens. "These choices include physical exercise, a nutritious diet, stress reduction, social engagement and mental stimulation."
It's a way of protecting the brain through prevention, rather than later trying to reverse neural damage after it has occurred.
Like many other ills such as diabetes, heart disease and depression, a change in lifestyle encompassing eating more fruits and vegetables, fish and lean meats, and staying away from fast and processed foods can have a huge impact. Small cites a recent study that indicated physical exercise twice a week reduced by 46 percent a person's future risk for memory decline, while eating antioxidant foods such as blueberries and broccoli cuts down the risk for dementia by 44 percent. Add to that, there's a 48 percent reduction in dementia risk for those who do complex mental tasks.
"It's not that hard," says Small, whose book offers lots of tips for a healthy brain lifestyle. "People just have to do it."