5 Scientifically-Proven Tips That Prevent Dementia

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and there are more than 5 million people currently suffer from the mental disintegration caused by Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The number of people affected by the disease is expected to triple by 2050 and costs are projected to be more than $380 billion annually by 2040.

In the Blue Zone of Ikaria, Greece, dementia is almost nonexistent. So drawing on the latest scientific research and the residents of Blue Zones around the world, what can we do to prevent it?

Here are 5 scientifically-proven tips that help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

1.) Walk daily

You don’t need to join a fitness class to maintain brain vitality! Interestingly, there is no association between intense physical exercise and Alzheimer’s risk. On the contrary, the best way to prevent mental decline is to walk daily. Walking about 5 miles per week increases brain volume, and correlates well with prevention of AD and other forms of dementia. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle can more than double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, making it a more impactful than heavy smoking! Other forms of light, regular exercise like gardening also have a preventive effect.

2.) Combat depression

Stress and depression contribute to the onset of many chronic diseases. It is not surprising then, that depression is an early warning sign of dementia! People who show signs of depression as early as midlife have a 50% greater chance of developing AD.

A growing body of evidence supports the preventive effect of a positive attitude and purpose in life on mental decline. Strategies to help you in this endeavor include volunteering, appealing to a higher power (i.e. practicing a religion), meditating and using deep breathing techniques. If you have severe depression, consider seeking a trained professional.

3.) Cut the smoking habit

Several studies show heavy smokers (20+ cigarettes/day) have reduced gray matter density as they age compared to non-smokers. Smoking actually doubles the risk for contracting Alzheimer’s Disease. Luckily for current smokers, quitting seems to reduce these effects to that of a non-smoker.

4.) Learn new hobbies

Knitting, playing board games or learning other crafts during mid-life can reduce memory loss by 40%-50%. Television is not a hobby! Elders who spent their day (7 or more hours) watching television are 50% more likely to experience memory loss. Some evidence shows playing a musical instrument also helps protect cognitive function. There are documented cases of individuals in the throes of mental decline responding positively to music from their childhood, even recalling events from their past.

5.) Get social

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in seven people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s live alone. That adds up to 800,000 people! Socially active people have up to a 50% reduced risk of developing dementia. There are a variety of positive effects social engagement can provide a buffer against dementia, including improving your mood and giving you a support network when you need it the most. Volunteering with friends may serve a double effect by improving mood and providing a purpose! One study reported people whose brains were severely affected by AD were still able to perform well on memory tests providing they had a large social network.

In terms of diseases people are most scared of, Alzheimer’s is second only to cancer. Following these 5 evidence-based tips will give you the best chance of avoiding this deadly condition.

The costs of Alzheimer’s Disease

In the Blue Zone of Ikaria, Greece, dementia is virtually nonexistent. This is in stark contrast to America, in 2012 there where 5.4 million people currently suffer from the mental disintegration caused by Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), this condition holds steady as the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. No known cure or drug currently exists that can prevent or even slow this deadly condition, and the monetary cost associated with this disease climbed to $200 billion in 2012! That number is projected cost more than $380 billion annually by 2040 as more of the baby boomer generation hits age 65.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s earns the title of the most common type of dementia, brain wasting diseases that result in brain cell death. Dementia causes memory to deteriorate and in some cases, people with Alzheimer’s experience difficulty speaking, understanding written and spoken words, recognizing certain objects, and exercising good judgment. In severe cases, patients have extreme difficulty completing familiar tasks in the home and experience confusion surrounding where and when they are.

Warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Astoundingly, warning signs of Alzheimer’s can appear in the brain as many as 20 years before noticeable outward symptoms! Research into this confounding condition show environmental risk factors like smoking, depression, and inactivity all contribute to its development. If this list looks familiar, it may be because these lifestyle behaviors also impact heart health. As it turns out, heart health and brain health are directly intertwined! Like the heart, the brain needs a healthy supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly, which are delivered via the bloodstream! To maximize your chances of retaining brain health in your golden years, follow these 5 tips.


1Unpublished tabulations based on data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey for  2008.
Prepared under contract by Julie Bynum, M.D., M.P.H., Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Merck Company Foundation. The State of Aging and Health in America, 2007. Whitehouse Station, N.J.: The Merck Company Foundation; 2007.
3Bateman RJ, Xiong C, Benzinger TL, et al. Clinical and biomarker changes in dominantly inherited alzheimer’s disease. N Engl J Med. 2012.
4Norton MC, Dew J, Smith H, et al. Lifestyle behavior pattern is associated with different levels of risk for incident dementia and alzheimer’s disease: The cache county study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012;60(3):405-412.
5Ciobica A, Padurariu M, Bild W, Stefanescu C. Cardiovascular risk factors as potential markers for mild cognitive impairment and alzheimer’s disease. Psychiatr Danub. 2011;23(4):340-346.
6Erickson KI, Raji CA, Lopez OL, et al. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood: The cardiovascular health study. Neurology. 2010;75(16):1415-1422.
7Buchman AS, Boyle PA, Yu L, Shah RC, Wilson RS, Bennett DA. Total daily physical activity and the risk of AD and cognitive decline in older adults. Neurology. 2012;78(17):1323-1329.
8Andel R, Crowe M, Pedersen NL, Fratiglioni L, Johansson B, Gatz M. Physical exercise at midlife and risk of dementia three decades later: A population-based study of swedish twins. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2008;63(1):62-66.
9Saczynski JS, Beiser A, Seshadri S, Auerbach S, Wolf PA, Au R. Depressive symptoms and risk of dementia: The framingham heart study. Neurology. 2010;75(1):35-41.
10Barnes DE, Yaffe K, Byers AL, McCormick M, Schaefer C, Whitmer RA. Midlife vs late-life depressive symptoms and risk of dementia: Differential effects for alzheimer disease and vascular dementia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012;69(5):493-498.
11Boyle PA, Buchman AS, Wilson RS, Yu L, Schneider JA, Bennett DA. Effect of purpose in life on the relation between alzheimer disease pathologic changes on cognitive function in advanced age. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012;69(5):499-505
12Kuhn S, Romanowski A, Schilling C, et al. Brain grey matter deficits in smokers: Focus on the cerebellum. Brain Struct Funct. 2012;217(2):517-522.
13Yu R, Zhao L, Lu L. Regional grey and white matter changes in heavy male smokers. PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27440.
14Rusanen M, Kivipelto M, Quesenberry CP,Jr, Zhou J, Whitmer RA. Heavy smoking in midlife and long-term risk of alzheimer disease and vascular dementia. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(4):333-339.
15Geda YE, Topazian HM, Lewis RA, et al. Engaging in cognitive activities, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: A population-based study. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2011;23(2):149-154.
16Wang HX, Karp A, Herlitz A, et al. Personality and lifestyle in relation to dementia incidence. Neurology. 2009;72(3):253-259.
17Bennett DA, Schneider JA, Tang Y, Arnold SE, Wilson RS. The effect of social networks on the relation between alzheimer’s disease pathology and level of cognitive function in old people: A longitudinal cohort study. Lancet Neurol. 2006;5(5):406-412.
18Hebert LE, Weuve J, Scherr PA, Evans DL. Alzheimer disease in the United States (2010–2050) estimated using the 2010 census. Neurology. 2013;80:1778-83.

August 10, 2012

Get the Blue Zones Newsletter

Sign up for a 10% off discount code to the Blue Zones® Store! We’ll bring you exclusive interviews and fresh tips for living longer – better.