Nearly 13 million women in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease or are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 66 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and two thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women.
Women can experience early signs of Alzheimer’s sooner than their male counterparts and research shows that the cognitive decline associated with the disease is two times faster in women than men.
Why Women Are More Likely to Experience Alzheimer’s Disease
The reason for the gender disparity is unknown. However, organizations like The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement led by Maria Shriver are proactively searching for answers as to why Alzheimer’s disease impacts more women than men and in a different way.
The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement was initially launched due to the lack of research specifically focusing on how to combat mental decline in women and their associated risks of cognitive impairment.
While organizations and scientists continue to find evidence behind why women are more susceptible to a decline in mental health, there are a few ways to reduce risk of mental decline in your life to promote a healthy brain and reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
10 Ways You Can Promote a Healthy Brain
There is no proven way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research is showing that there are strategies that can help your brain to stay healthier longer. Check out these 10 tips for maintaining a healthy brain in women.
A daily cup of tea has been associated with a 50 percent reduction of risk of cognitive impairment in those over the age of 65, according to a March 2017 study. Women who are genetically at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease experienced a dramatic 86 percent reduction by drinking tea.
The scientists at the National University of Singapore say bioactive compounds in tea brewed from tea leaves (any kind) have anti-inflammatory properties that protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration which may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Swap one of your usual cups of coffee for a cup of green or black tea
- Finish off your lunch with a relaxing cup of tea
Dance the Night Away
In a 2017 study, researchers at the University of Illinois discovered that learning how to dance slows the degeneration of white matter in the brain associated with aging.
Findings conclude that dancing improves brain health because it requires the practice of learning and mastering new choreography which in turn engages the memory and focus functions of the brain. Dancing can also serve as a social activity which can positively boost brain health.
- Sign up for a virtual dance class. Many community and senior centers are offering classes that you can access at home on your computer.
- Challenge a friend, family member, or grandchild to a dance off. Choose a music video you enjoy on YouTube (either an old classic or a new favorite) and practice learning the routine. Send a video to each other of your new dance moves.
Train Your Brain
A 2018 study found cognitive activities can reduce the risk of mental decline, promoting a healthy brain. Some of the training exercises used in the study include using visual imagery to activate the memory function in the brain to remember names of new people and using associations to remember shopping lists.
- Set a goal to exercise your brain for 5 minutes a day. This could mean watching a documentary instead of a TV show and making a list of questions that come up as you watch. Use your library or the internet to find the answers to your questions.
- Commit to learning a new skill, even something as simple as drawing a cartoon. Other skills that don’t require spending a lot of money are finger knitting, painting, sketching, whittling, or writing.
- Add in brain games to improve cognitive health to your after supper routine. If you have a partner at home try playing Scrabble or Hearts in the evening. You can also play games such as Sudoku alone, or try finding a game to play online either by yourself or with distant friends. There are any number of games available from strategy games such as Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, or card games such as Memory or Bridge.
Consuming foods cooked with canola oil is not good for your brain. A new study conducted on mice found that this oil produced symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s disease. Canola oil has been linked to worsened memory, worsened learning ability, and weight gain. The scientists found that canola oil increased the formation of plaques in the brain which can increase the risk of cognitive decline.
On the flip side, separate research found consuming extra-virgin olive oil preserves memory and helps protect the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.
- Swap out a deep-fried dish such as fries or onion rings for a green salad. This doesn’t mean you never eat fries again! Just try eating more greens and less fried food.
- Ditch your store-bought salad dressing for a simple concoction of extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a few spices such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano. You can also try finding a store dressing that contains no canola oil.
Scientists at Baycrest Health Sciences have found a link between music and positive brain health. The power of music in dementia care has also shown how music can help those with cognitive decline or dementia. Research findings conclude that learning to create a musical sound alters brain waves to improve listening and hearing skills. That rewiring of the brain is believed to be able to help us ward off age-related cognitive decline.
- There is no time like the present to learn to make music. If you have never learned to plan an instrument you can start with something as simple (and inexpensive) as a penny whistle.
- If you already have an instrument in the house, you can use YouTube tutorials to brush up on your skills or even hire a virtual music teacher.
- Some of the easiest instruments to start with are the ukulele, guitar, recorder, harmonica, or piano. You can even purchase an inexpensive piano pad to practice on if you don’t have a full-size piano.
A 2017 study from Loma Linda University Health says eating nuts on a regular basis strengthens brainwave frequencies associated with cognition, healing, learning, memory, and other key brain functions.
Eating a variety of nuts appears to be the best recipe for promoting a healthy brain.
Pistachios produced the greatest gamma wave response, a function critical for enhancing cognitive processing, information retention, learning, perception, and rapid eye movement during sleep.
Although they’re actually a legume and not a nut, peanuts were included in the study and found to produce the highest delta response, which is associated with healthy immunity, natural healing, and deep sleep.
- Eat a small handful of nuts or seeds before bed.
- Add two tablespoons of nuts or seeds to your yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal in the morning.
- Fancy up your green salad with a sprinkling of nuts.
Drinking beet juice has been found to increase blood flow to the brain. Increased blood flow is thought to be a beneficial way to fight the progression of dementia as well as maintain a healthy brain in those without symptoms of cognitive decline. As an added benefit, beet juice has been shown to help lower blood pressure, a factor that contributes to heart disease which is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Adding beet juice to a fruit smoothie makes for a delightful color and gives you a punch of nutrition.
- Beet juice pairs well with apple juice, carrot juice, or ginger flavor. Experiment with different flavors to find one you like.
- If you don’t want to drink your beets, just eat them! Try a homemade beet soup or cooked beets with your next meal.
Stress is a normal response to challenging situations. Continuous high levels of stress can become toxic for your brain. Chronic stress can lead to the body producing more cortisol (the stress hormone) than it can handle. This extra cortisol can decrease your brain function.
Stress can not be avoided, but you can take steps to minimize the impact it has on your brain. Set aside chunks of time where you come to a full stop. The constant level of anxiety and pressure is what wears down your brain. You need to have times in your day where you slow down your “fight or flight” response.
Make a practice of moments of quiet or peace to reset your body’s balance such as:
- Sitting quietly listening to a favorite song
- Pausing before you eat to be grateful for what you have
- Lying in bed and breathing deeply through your nose
- Cuddling a pet or loved one
Get Better Sleep
Poor sleep and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease has been consistently linked. A good night’s sleep helps the brain to prune out the toxins in your brain. When you have continual disrupted and poor quality sleep it can make it difficult for your brain to clear out the beta-amyloid protein that has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Make sleep a priority. Set a regular time to go to bed and to get up each day. Pay attention to your daily pattern to determine the best time for heading to bed.
- Skip the sleep robbers. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and blue light (screens) all have a negative impact on your sleep. Try to avoid all of these at least 2 hours before bed.
- Get moving. Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality.
Keep blood Sugars controlled
Research has shown that prolonged high blood sugars can impact your brain health. These high levels of sugar in your blood can lead to higher levels of inflammation that increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. By decreasing the amount of sugar you consume you are doing your brain a favor.
- Be intentional about when you eat something sweet. Don’t just mindlessly add sugar to your coffee. Skip the snacks while you are watching a movie or reading. When you do crave something sweet, put it on a plate and sit and eat it slowly. Savor the small amount of sweetness.
- Don’t drink your sugar. The amount of sugar in many processed drinks is dangerous. It is best to avoid sweet drinks.
- Experiment with others flavors instead of sweet. Try lemon zest in your water or vanilla in your coffee.