What Are The Most Effective Alzheimer's Prevention Strategies?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated March 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of age-related dementia. It can cause a debilitating loss of mental ability that may sharply limit a person’s ability to enjoy everyday life and care for themselves, and it eventually proves fatal. There’s currently no cure for this degenerative disease, but studies have uncovered several lifestyle changes that may substantially lower the risk of developing this and related forms of cognitive decline. In other words, you may be able to delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease by making some healthy changes as you age. You can find more information below.

Getty
Get professional support for your emotional and cognitive health

Key risk factors for Alzheimer's disease

Though the precise causes of AD are still not fully understood, clinical researchers have made significant progress in identifying who seems to be most likely to develop this disease. Some of the most notable risk factors are out of our control. Aging, for example, is the most important predictor of Alzheimer’s. Most people who have Alzheimer’s are 65 or older, and each successive five-year period of life doubles the risk of developing it. A family history of the disease is also a significant factor, as genetics are known to play a role in this condition.  

That said, scientists have also identified many other contributing influences on AD risk that it may be possible to change by adopting healthier habits. These potentially modifiable risk factors include the following.

High blood pressure

Studies have repeatedly indicated that elevated blood pressure, also known as hypertension, appears to substantially increase a person’s odds of developing dementia. The exact nature of the connection is unclear, but it might have to do with the effects of hypertension on blood vessels. Your brain is filled with tiny blood vessels, which are often subject to greater wear and tear when your blood pressure is too high. 

Unhealthy blood pressure could also increase your likelihood of developing vascular dementia, a form of cognitive decline caused by strokes. Though this is considered a separate disease from Alzheimer’s, the two often occur together, and some researchers suspect they might be more closely linked than previously believed. Even if this isn’t the case, lowering your chances of cardiovascular disease could be an important way to protect your brain health by reducing your stroke risk.

Obesity

Obesity in midlife has also been identified as a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. This could be partly due to the tendency of excessive body fat to increase blood pressure and heart disease risk, but some research findings have hinted that other mechanisms could also be at work. For example, a 2019 paper in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that obesity might reduce the blood supply to the brain, potentially causing inflammation and death in neurons.

Smoking tobacco

Another lifestyle factor that can have a significant impact on the health of your circulatory system is tobacco smoking. The evidence currently available strongly suggests that smoking can lead to a substantially higher risk of Alzheimer’s along with a host of other potential health complications. In fact, a 2014 research review suggests that habitual smokers have a 70% higher chance of developing AD and that increased cigarette exposure appears to be associated with increased risk.

Heavy drinking

High levels of alcohol consumption might speed up the rate of cognitive decline as you age. Researchers in one study monitored a group of 360 adults over 20 years and found that those who consumed eight or more alcoholic drinks per week showed a much faster loss of their mental faculties over time. They didn’t find much difference between those who drank less and those who didn’t drink at all, suggesting that reducing alcohol use might be an effective Alzheimer’s prevention strategy.

The SAMHSA National Helpline for support with substance misuse is available 24/7 and can be reached by calling (800) 662-4357.

Head trauma

Physical damage to the brain may also lead to a much greater likelihood of developing AD and other forms of dementia. One 2021 study on the topic suggests that those who sustained a head injury were almost one and a half times more likely to develop dementia later in life. More severe injuries may increase the risk even further.

Though you might not be able to eliminate the risk of head trauma, certain precautions may help you protect your brain. Wearing a seatbelt while driving and a helmet when engaging in high-risk sports and activities can make a big difference. As you get older and/or if you have a physical disability that affects balance or walking, it may also be a good idea to modify your home and daily habits to avoid the risk of falling and hitting your head.

Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes may be another significant modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. This potential connection can be partly explained by the increased risk of cardiovascular disease associated with type 2 diabetes, though studies continue to indicate an association between Alzheimer’s and diabetes even after controlling for strokes. There’s some evidence that diabetes might directly contribute to the formation of unhealthy brain plaques that lead to brain-cell death in AD.

Depression

A clinical diagnosis of major depressive disorder can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes appearing as a red flag before the mild cognitive impairment that can signal the onset of dementia. Paying attention to and taking care of your mental health and familiarizing yourself with the warning signs of depression and other common illnesses may be helpful.

Getty/AnnaStills

Alzheimer’s prevention tips

Targeting the modifiable risk factors listed above may help you reduce your risk of developing AD and dementia as you get older. Making the following healthy lifestyle choices could be particularly effective. Consult your doctor for more information.

Get regular exercise

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study on eight risk factors that can be modified to help prevent Alzheimer’s. They found that a lack of physical exercise was the second-strongest predictor of AD.

Exercise appears to help control blood pressure, prevent obesity, reduce diabetes risk, and stave off depression, to name just a few related, potential benefits. 

There’s also evidence that staying physically active might directly benefit brain health. Research suggests that it seems to promote the development of new neurons and boost cerebral blood supply, potentially helping slow or even repair some damage that Alzheimer’s does to the brain.

Eat a nutritionally rich diet

Eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods is another potentially important lifestyle choice that could reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. More research is needed to confirm exactly how this effect may work, but the available evidence suggests that eating a diet high in saturated fats and sugar could increase dementia risk. To help protect brain health, it may help to adopt “Mediterranean-style” eating habits. That means eating plenty of:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains

The Mediterranean style of eating also typically includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy products as sources of protein and amino acids rather than red meats. Complex fats like olive oil and avocado oil are used in place of things like butter and vegetable oil. It may also be best to strictly limit your consumption of heavily processed foods and refined sugars. Meet with your doctor or nutritionist before making any significant dietary changes.

Get socially engaged

One type of mental activity that may be especially helpful for Alzheimer’s protection is socializing. Human brains seem to be heavily oriented toward processing interpersonal relationships, and regular contact with other people could help maintain the healthy networks of neurons that could slow down the cognitive decline associated with dementia. 

In addition to its direct effects on your brain function, social activity may help reduce many of the other risk factors for AD. For example, people who are in regular contact with families, friends, and neighbors tend to be more likely to follow recommended eating habits and get regular physical activity. Having a robust social support network may also lower one’s risk of depression.

Getty/AnnaStills
Get professional support for your emotional and cognitive health

Take care of your mental health

The search for ways to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease often focuses on ways to address the physical changes in the brain. However, evidence is accumulating that mental health challenges like depression may also speed up the progression of dementia. That’s how working with a therapist to address mental stress and emotional challenges may also lower one’s risk of Alzheimer’s.

That said, if you’re following the rest of the advice above and maintaining a rich, active lifestyle, you might find it difficult to make time in your schedule to engage in regular mental health counseling. That’s where online therapy can be especially useful, since it can potentially be as effective in treating mental health conditions as traditional in-person sessions but is more convenient for many people. For example, one review of studies comparing online to in-person therapy found “no difference in effectiveness” between the two formats. Finding a therapist online could be a convenient way to start prioritizing your mental health to improve well-being and manage your risk of developing health problems like Alzheimer’s disease.

Takeaway

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that manifests as cognitive decline and, eventually, death. While some factors that may lead to the development of AD, such as genetics, are out of an individual’s control, there are other measures you can take in an attempt to decrease your risk. For example, making healthy lifestyle choices like eating nutritious foods, exercising, and socializing regularly may help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, as may reducing alcohol consumption and not smoking.
Explore emotions related to Alzheimer's Disease
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started