For far too long there was no way to predict if you were at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Senior moments could be terrifying, because they might be a typical sign of aging, or they might be the beginning of a devastating disease. You just don’t know.
Slowly, though, researchers have learned that diet, exercise, and behavioral choices really can impact your risk of developing any of the several types of dementia. In fact, we’re learning enough about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias that we’re beginning to be able to find links to the disease in some very unexpected places…
- Living near a busy road. A long-term study out of Canada has linked living within 650 feet of a major road to the development of dementia. The study, which tracked information from 2001 to 2012, looked at the entire adult population of the province of Ontario—6.8 million people ranging in age from 20 to 85. Even adjusting for other variables, researchers discovered a link between living closer to a busy street and Alzheimer’s or another dementia. The risk grew the closer the individual lived to the road from a 2% increase for people living 650 feet away from the high-traffic area, to a 7% increased risk for people living within 164 feet. There was no increased risk beyond 650 feet. To be clear, this isn’t a causal study. No one is saying that living this close to a busy street caused the dementia. Perhaps it’s the noise, the pollution, or the added stress. Whatever it is, though, there definitely seems to be a link between the disease and living so close to a busy street. So, if you do live close to a busy street, consider ear plugs and/or a household air filter, until researchers can learn more.
- Getting too little sleep. Being sleep deprived may do more than just make you grumpy. It’s believed that when a certain protein builds up in the brain, it causes a plaque to build up, as well. This plaque is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, research has indicated that deep sleep is your body’s chance to purge the brain of this protein so the buildup doesn’t occur as quickly, if at all. No protein buildup, no plaque buildup. To add insult to injury, the protein also makes it harder to sleep, so you end up in a vicious cycle: you don’t get enough sleep, the protein builds up, which makes it harder to sleep, so you don’t get enough sleep, and the protein builds up… You get the picture. Aim for 6–8 hours of sleep a day, even if you have to break it up or take naps.
- Not taking care of your teeth. Studies are linking poor oral hygiene, and the bacteria that grows when you don’t care for your teeth, with developing dementia. It’s believed that the bacteria enters the bloodstream, where it can impact the brain, by activating chemicals that can disrupt normal brain activity and even kill neurons. To stack the deck in your favor, make sure you floss at least once a day, and brush twice.
To reiterate, none of these have been definitely proven to cause Alzheimer’s, but they are pretty clearly linked to higher risks of the disease. Don’t sit back and wait to see what happens. Take the steps outlined above, and remember that diet, exercise, and keeping yourself health in general can go a long way to keeping you mentally fit as well as physically fit.
We’re getting to the point where we understand causes of dementia better than we once did. Take every step you can to use this new science to protect yourself.