Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease – A Personal Responsibility

Preventing Alzheimer's by exercising daily
Preventing Alzheimer’s – exercising daily



When did you last attend a presentation where the speaker was humorous, engaging and an expert in his field?

Prof Yoram Barak was invited by Alzheimers Canterbury to present a talk recently at the South Christchurch Library. I am so glad I went!

His address was titled ‘Your Mind Matters – Here’s How To Stay Sharp… Dementia Beyond Disease’.

From the notes I jotted down, I thought you may find the following insights and recommendations most helpful. Prof Yoram Barak is an expert in the field of Alzheimer’s and has also published a book:

Preventing Alzheimer’s  Disease – A Personal Responsibility: by Prof Yoram Barak

He explained that there are always multiple factors causing any disease – Alzheimer’s is a multifactorial disorder. Prevention plus treatment form an integrative practice.

Preventative Treatment / Medicine is the practice of managing risk vs protective factors. You don’t have to know exactly how to cure something if you can prevent the development of the risk factors.

Known Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease include:

  • Obesity
  • Carotid artery narrowing
  • Low educational achievement
  • Hyper-homocysteine (in food)
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Frailty
  • Current smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes

Protective Factors include:

  • Learning to play a musical instrument
  • Learning a new language
  • Learning how to listen to classical music
  • Hypertensive drugs that cause modulation of renin-angiotensin
  • Nutrition / diet / brain food. Broadly following The Mediterranean Diet with-
  1. Olive Oil 4 Tablespoons/day
  2. Walnuts and hazelnuts 30g on alternate days
  3. 1 glass of RED wine with a meal
  4. NO RED meat, soda or soft drinks
  5. NO commercial baking or potatoes
  • Cognitive Engagement:
  1. Get Zen – meditate for ½ hour daily (refer Gary Kabat Zinn on Mindfulness)
  2. Physical Exercise – daily for 30-45 minutes
  3. Loneliness – volunteer, maintain and cultivate friendships
  4. Purpose In Life – explore, grow.

Prof Barak explained that we don’t know why people develop dementia, and that there is no cure to date. As we do know the main risk factors, prevention becomes a personal responsibility.  The neurones / grey cells in the brain are responsible for executive functioning. All activities that enhance Neurogenesis are encouraged. These include:

Get Quality Rest: It is essential to have uninterrupted sleep for 6-8 hours per night. Short term memory storage occurs during the day, and during sleep these memories are moved into long term memory and consolidated.

Take The Blues Seriously: Depression reduces cognitive functioning, and is experienced by 17-22% of people, or 1 in 5 people. During episodes of depression the hippocampus, which creates memories, atrophies and memory is therefore reduced. It can take 3 years for the Hippocampus to regenerate.

Manage Stress: Increased levels of cortisol which are produced during stress are neurotoxic. This allows increased levels of calcium through the tissue membranes. The neurones become overloaded and fire too rapidly, which kills the neurones. People exposed to prolonged trauma, such as war veterans, have 3x greater risk.

Play: Playfulness and playing enjoyable games increases brain volume in the regions that control memory and spatial thinking.

Drink Your Coffee: Polyphenals in coffee are antioxidants, and protect the hippocampus and brain cortex. Dry brain material contains 70% fat molecules. When oxygen clumps around the fat cells, oxidation occurs, which is detrimental to the tissues – coffee helps prevent this. 3-5 cups a day for women, and 2-3 cups a day for men is recommended.

Brush Up: Dental hygiene has been linked to improved memory, though the exact cause is unknown. It has been found that memory is enhanced in people who still have their natural teeth.

Monitor Your Hearing: Cognitive decline progresses 30-40% faster for people with hearing loss.

Avoid Smoking: The brain cortex thins with age, and smoking hastens the thinning.

Avoid Alcohol/Hard Spirits: Alcohol is known to kill brain cells and thereby reduce memory.

All in all, these are recommendations that all health practitioners are promoting. How many of them do you take personal responsibility for?

Food for thought – Food for our brains!

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