By Dr. Stacie Pinderhughes
More than 6 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s, including more than 76,000 Colorado residents – a number now projected to increase 21.1 percent to 92,000 by 2025.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and one of the deadliest diseases in the country. In fact, someone in the United States develops the disease every 65 seconds, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
It is more important than ever to learn about this disease along with these five simple steps that can improve brain health, reduce the risk of disease, and help delay the potential onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- Use it or lose it. Whether it’s crossword puzzles, reading, or painting, keeping your brain mentally stimulated may help keep it young.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to problems with memory and cognitive abilities. Sleep is essential for brain maintenance, like removing built-up toxins in your brain.
- Stay social. A study found memory declined at half the rate for social adults. Isolation or loneliness in older adults is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia and a 26 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality, according to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
- Make healthier lifestyle choices. Studies show moderate exercise can help improve brain function, especially in the areas responsible for learning and memory. Improving these parts of the brain may fight pre-Alzheimer’s changes often seen in midlife. Talk to your health plan about fitness programs that may be available at no additional cost like UnitedHealthcare’s RenewActive.
Lifestyle choices that help reduce cardiovascular risk, like exercise, a healthy diet, low-to-moderate alcohol consumption, and not smoking, appear to also slow brain aging.
In addition to these five steps, it is important to have a memory screening done each year. Having a record can increase your health care practitioner’s ability to diagnose memory disorders earlier.
Memory screenings can be performed during your Annual Wellness Visit, which is free to anyone on Medicare. Make sure to ask your physician to perform a memory evaluation the next time you visit the doctor’s office.
UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members can take advantage of the HouseCalls program, which brings a yearly health and wellness visit to the convenience and privacy of home, at no additional cost. A HouseCalls licensed practitioner can conduct a memory screening and refer you to additional care if needed.
You can also check out this list of 10 common warning signs. If you feel like you or a loved one is suffering from serious memory loss, contact your health care provider.