Under the Shadow of Alzheimer's

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You Can Reduce Your Risk

Alzheimer's disease starts with mild memory lapses and escalates to personality changes, trouble communicating, lack of awareness, and difficulty performing even simple tasks. More than 5 million Americans are currently living with the disease, and that number is expected to surge as baby boomers reach 65 and older. But don't drive yourself crazy with worry. There are things you can do now to lower your risk, says Majid Fotuhi, MD, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore and a member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board.

Get More Exercise
By doing regular aerobic activity, you can actually grow your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for short-term memory. Research shows that a larger hippocampus protects against memory loss and dementia.

Take DHA
DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in algae and fish that may improve memory and lower Alzheimer's risk. Dr. Fotuhi recommends eating two servings of salmon or fatty fish a week, plus taking 900 to 1,500 mg of DHA in a daily supplement.

Say No to Trans Fats
People with diets high in trans fats are more likely to experience signs of dementia like brain shrinkage and lower scores on thinking and memory tests, according to a recent study. Check nutrition information on packaged and fast foods, the main sources of trans fats, and eat more fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Keep Calm
Stress in your younger years can lead to dementia later, according to a 35-year study of women. "Constant stress leads to shrinkage in the brain," Dr. Fotuhi says. Make time to meditate or breathe deeply.

Learn Something New
Learning has the same protective effect on your brain as strength-training does on your bones. By building new connections, your brain gets stronger and stays in shape longer. Start language classes, learn to play chess, or start reading up on a complicated topic.

Time Your Hormone Therapy
Starting hormone therapy in your 60s and 70s may increase your risk for dementia by nearly 50 percent, according to a study in the Annals of Neurology. But using it in midlife, right when menopause starts, and weaning yourself off of it within two years may protect against dementia. Best advice: Talk to your doctor to weigh the pros and cons.

--Amelia Harnish

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2012.


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