Elisabeth Bablin

Can Alzheimer’s disease be prevented early on in life? Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has no known cure, it can only be treated after diagnosis, and those treatments come with no guarantee of success. The emotional toll AD takes on those that suffer from this malady and their loved ones, certainly makes preventative measures an important topic of discussion. Recent research has shown that lifelong habits such as a proper diet and brain training may be beneficial in preventing memory loss and keeping minds sharp. (1)

AD preventative measures can be broken down into two groups: primary and secondary prevention. Primary prevention occurs before diagnosis, when certain AD biomarkers are not yet present. These biomarkers come in two types and are measured in vivo, while they “reflect specific features of disease-related pathophysiological processes.” (1)

The first type is the accumulation of A-beta, an amyloid plaque found in the brain of AD patients. The second of these markers is neuronal degeneration and can be detected through brain imaging. Secondary prevention occurs after these biomarkers have been detected and is aimed at limiting mental decline. (1)

The goal of primary prevention strategies is to stop AD from ever developing. As there is no cure for the disease, prevention is a top priority for aging populations and society as a

whole. Unlike secondary prevention, which typically involves taking drugs, primary prevention is simple, easy, and low-maintenance. There are no trips to the doctors or time-consuming treatments.(1) Primary prevention includes lifestyle habits and dieting. (2)

Recent research indicates that small habits, incorporated into the young and old people’s lifestyles can help in the fight against Alzheimers. When comparing the amounts of

beta-amyloid (a large part of the plaque found in the brain of AD patients) buildup in those who regularly exercised and participated in mentally stimulating activities, showed that these

activities are connected to less buildup and healthier brains. The elderly who made a lifelong commitment to such activities had brains similar to that of their young counterparts. Compared to the older people who did not engage in exercise and mental stimulation regularly had plaque buildup on par with that of AD patients. (2)

A separate study conducted on elderly populations in the US tested specific mental functions, including reasoning and processing speed. Both of these traits were shown to improve with training. (6) This suggests that keeping your brain and body engaged throughout life (especially in younger years and middle age) can improve brain function and even have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s, especially if it is combined with other traits of a healthy lifestyle. This lifestyle includes limiting saturated and trans-fats, choosing vegetables, fruits and whole grains over meat and dairy, and regularly doing aerobic exercise such as walking. (3) This lifestyle may help fight against issues such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes which have been linked to the disease.In the future, certain plants that produce neuroprotective effects, such as Areca catechu, Acorus calamus, and Eclipta alba, could be incorporated into people’s diets to defend against AD. (4)

Mentally stimulating activities could even help those who have already been diagnosed.

One 2011 study showed that dementia patients who regularly completed crossword puzzles experienced memory loss symptoms over two and a half years later than those who didn’t complete the crossword. (5)

However, the efficacy of these studies has been called into question. The results are not always consistent or may exhibit variable data due to external factors such as greater education. Additionally, post-study investigations are not always conducted, making long-term definitive results elusive. Furthermore, the complexity of the human brain and the difficulty of understanding how different brain functions impact each other makes this an incredibly complicated area of research. (1)

The efficacy of primary prevention on AD is still being researched. There are inherent problems with finding concrete answers to what does and doesn’t prevent mental deterioration.

But the research that has been done is promising. There seems to be a connection between engaging your brain throughout life and a lessened symptoms of AD or even prevention of the disease entirely. And if committing to a healthy lifestyle can even slightly reduce the pain caused by this disease, isn’t it worth trying?

This article has been reviewed by the Scientific Writing Team Lead of Esurgi: Ishtiak Ahmed Chowdhury

References:

  1. Hsu, D., & Marshall, G. A. (2017). Primary and Secondary Prevention Trials in Alzheimer Disease: Looking Back, Moving Forward. Current Alzheimer research, 14(4), 426–440. https://doi.org/10.2174/1567205013666160930112125

2. Landau, S. M., Marks, S. M., Mormino, E. C., Rabinovici, G. D., Oh, H., O’Neil, J. P., Wilson, R. S., & Jagust, W. J. (2012). Association of lifetime cognitive engagement and low β-amyloid deposition. Archives of neurology, 69(5), 623–629. https://doi.org/10.1001/archneurol.2011.2748

3. Neal D. Barnard, Ashley I. Bush, Antonia Ceccarelli, James Cooper, Celeste A. de Jager, Kirk I. Erickson, Gary Fraser, Shelli Kesler, Susan M. Levin, Brendan Lucey, Martha Clare Morris, Rosanna Squitti, Dietary and lifestyle guidelines for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, Neurobiology of Aging, Volume 35, Supplement 2, 2014, Pages S74-S78, ISSN 0197-4580, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.03.033.

4. Pradeep, S., Jain, A. S., Dharmashekara, C., Prasad, S. K., Kollur, S. P., Syed, A., & Shivamallu, C. (2020). Alzheimer’s Disease and Herbal Combination Therapy: A Comprehensive Review. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease reports, 4(1), 417–429. https://doi.org/10.3233/ADR-200228

5. Pillai, J. A., Hall, C. B., Dickson, D. W., Buschke, H., Lipton, R. B., & Verghese, J.(2011). Association of crossword puzzle participation with memory decline in persons who develop dementia. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society : JINS, 17(6), 1006–1013. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1355617711001111

6. Willis, S. L., Tennstedt, S. L., Marsiske, M., Ball, K., Elias, J., Koepke, K. M., Morris, J. N., Rebok, G. W., Unverzagt, F. W., Stoddard, A. M., Wright, E., & ACTIVE Study Group (2006). Long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults. JAMA, 296(23), 2805–2814. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.296.23.2805