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Doing This 1 Thing May Delay Alzheimer's by 5 Years

It's easy and costs almost nothing.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
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Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, age-related brain disorder that, right now, has no cure. So any news about how to potentially prevent the condition is especially welcome. Some arrived this week, with the publication of a new study that found doing one thing could delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years. "A cognitively active lifestyle in old age may delay the onset of dementia in AD by as much as 5 years," say the researchers. Read on to find out what you need to do—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

1

What Is Alzheimer's disease?

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Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting about 6.2 million Americans. Dementia is an umbrella term for several disorders of the brain; they involve changes to memory, thinking, personality, and judgment that interfere with a person's ability to function. 

Aging is the #1 risk factor for Alzheimer's. Most cases are diagnosed in people older than 65.  

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2

What Are the Risk Factors For Alzheimer's?

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Experts aren't sure why some older people develop Alzheimer's and others don't. But studies have found that certain factors, besides age, increase your risk of developing the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:

  • Family history of Alzheimer's
  • Unhealthy lifestyle (poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive alcohol use, obesity)
  • Cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure or poorly controlled diabetes)
  • Head injury
  • Low social or cognitive engagement

3

What Did The New Study Say?

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According to a study published this month in the journal Neurology, researchers found that mentally stimulating activities that involve seeking or processing information (such as reading, writing letters, playing cards or board games, and doing puzzles) may delay the onset of dementia in older people.

Scientists tracked 1,903 people (average age 80) for up to 22 years. None of them had dementia at the start of the study. Over time, 457 developed Alzheimer's. That occurred on average at age 94 for people who did the most brain-stimulating activities later in life, compared to age 89 for who did the least.

The researchers found that staying active in older age is especially important. ""It's never too late to start doing the kinds of inexpensive, accessible activities," mentioned in the study, they wrote, "even in your 80s."

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4

Previous Studies Agree

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In 2012, research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease indicated that an "active lifestyle"—defined as participation in mental, physical, or social activity—delayed dementia onset among older adults by 17 months, on average. The researchers found that people who participated in more of those three types of activity experienced a greater delay in dementia onset than those who did less.

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5

Why Does Staying Engaged Matter?

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Experts aren't exactly sure why. But this is just the latest of many studies that suggest keeping your brain challenged can help keep it young. "Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia," advises the Alzheimer's Association. "For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online."

Additionally, "staying socially engaged may support brain health," the organization says. "Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family."

And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss these 13 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Killing You.