According to the 2022 Facts and Figures report from the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 6.5 million people in the United States are currently coping with Alzheimer’s. While it would be impossible to entirely prevent this slowly degenerative disease, there are ways to lower your risks. If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, you’ll need to be careful to protect your own mental health, as being a caregiver can be highly rewarding but extremely challenging. Here is what you need to know.
Reducing Your Own Risk
The best way to lower your risk for Alzheimer’s while improving your memory right now is to develop an overall healthier lifestyle. Tips you can implement into your daily routines include:
- Physical fitness. You may already know that adding just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise has tremendous benefits for your body, making you feel better and lowering your chances of developing nearly any chronic disease. But did you know that getting fit can also boost your brain and memory? Whether you prefer walking, gardening, or playing catch with your kids or grandkids, getting your body moving is one of the easiest ways to lower your risk for Alzheimer’s.
- Healthy diet. There are a lot of diets out there, but you don’t need to follow any of them to gain powerful memory benefits. Focus on consuming a variety of whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Keep your sugar intake low and your intake of vitamins, minerals, and fiber high.
- Alcohol in moderation. Light drinking may help improve your memory, but be careful. Many cases of Alzheimer’s begin in the hippocampus, the same part of the brain affected by heavy alcohol use. Men should consume no more than two drinks daily, while women should stick to just one.
- Mental exercise. Just like your body, your mind needs regular exercise—but that doesn’t mean you have to do things you find boring. Mental stimulation can come from many sources, such as playing along with your favorite game show, solving jigsaw puzzles, cracking the case in an adventure-style video game, or taking up a hobby such as painting or fantasy football. Socializing with others, keeping up with the news, and finding a passion project are other ways to keep your mind active and lower your risk for Alzheimer’s.
Caring for Someone Else with Alzheimer’s
It’s not easy to care for a loved one experiencing cognitive decline, but it can be tremendously rewarding. However, you’ll need to take active steps to lower your chances of burnout, which can strongly impact your mental and physical health. From the Family Caregiver Alliance, here’s what you need to do:
- Assess the situation. Sit down with your loved one and other close relatives and friends to discuss the situation. Try to hone in on what’s changed, when it changed, and your loved one’s current needs.
- Get a diagnosis. Take your loved one to a doctor who is familiar with cognitive decline. Get a complete medical and physical assessment and an official diagnosis and prognosis.
- Assemble a team. No one person can do it all. As your loved one worsens, you may need everything from respite care to in-home nursing help. You may even need to consider eventually admitting the person to a specialized care facility. Start thinking now about which friends and relatives will do what and researching options for professional assistance.
- Plan for the future. In addition to caregiving plans, you’ll need to make financial and legal plans for your loved one’s future. It’s better to do this now, while the person can participate in planning, rather than waiting until all the decision-making falls to you.
- Safety-proof the house. People with Alzheimer’s are at increased risk from common household hazards. To create safety, improve the lighting, store medications and cleaning chemicals in locked cabinets, remove tripping hazards, and consider safely storing knives and other sharp objects.
- Lead with empathy for your loved one and yourself. As cognitive decline progresses, your loved one may become increasingly confused and even scared. Always make decisions based on compassion for what they’re going through, but don’t lose yourself in the process. Know your limits, make time for self-care, and set boundaries. Reach out for help before you think you need it.