You have to start early to ward off Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive decline. It seems to be a fairly universal rule that it is far easier to prevent most medical problems than it is to “cure” a condition. With Alzheimer’s, however, there have been precious few preventive measures scientists have been able to offer to ward off the disease. According to research recently reported in the medical journal Neurology, the inflammation our bodies may experience in our 40s and 50s can lead to higher rates of cognitive decline in our 70s and 80s. So what does that mean?
The researchers have followed a group of people in their 40s and 50s for over twenty years starting with blood tests to check for markers for inflammation. In short they found that people with higher levels of inflammatory markers early in their lives had steeper climbs in cognitive decline as the years progressed. This is one of the longest time intervals that people have been followed trying to find what may cause cognitive decline.
The lead researcher does admit that they cannot conclusively prove that systemic inflammation causes cognitive decline later in life, but the people with the higher levels of inflammation early in life had higher levels of cognitive decline later. The reverse also holds true that people with lower inflammation had less cognitive decline later.
So, what is the takeaway from this research? How does one lower one’s inflammation…or maybe more importantly, what does that inflammation look like in our 40s and 50s? First, the most common conditions that are associated with higher inflammation include obesity, elevated blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. So, if you are in the that mid-life group and your physician talks to you about dropping some weight or keeping on your medication for hypertension, pay attention. That physician is also talking about lowering your risk for cognitive issues later in life.
How do you do that? A couple of the core suggestions to lower inflammation involve diet and exercise. Regular exercise can reduce your risk for any of these conditions and even help to prevent them in the first place. Also, avoid saturated fats and sugar in your diet. It sounds almost too easy, but if you do the things that help your body in general, your brain will benefit as much as your heart and the other organs. It’s never too late to make the changes that will keep you sharp into your older years.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.