According to the Alzheimer’s Association,

Alzheimers’ disease affects approximately 5.7 million Americans today, 55 million of whom are over the age of 65.  It is the 6th leading cause of death (one in three adults will die from this disease) in the United States. 

Here are a few more facts:

  • Ten percent of adults 65 or older have Alzheimer’s dementia.
  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Older African-Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites.
  • Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as older whites.
  • Every 65 seconds an adult in the United States is afflicted with the disease.

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We can expect that these numbers will grow as our country ages–in disproportionately large numbers—causing billions of dollars in healthcare costs and unpaid caregiver hours.

 At this time, Alzheimer’s disease is the only disease in the top ten list of diseases in the United States that cannot be treated or cured. This month has been designated as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month to bring not only attention–but action–to fight this devastating and deadly disease.

So, what can we do while we are waiting for a cure, vaccine or other medical intervention to prevent, stop or reverse this disease?

According to Lisa Genova, neuroscientist and author of the book, Still Alice, the way we live influences our risk. In her April 2017 TED talk, Dr. Genova acknowledged that there is risk factors including: 50 years old or older, inherited genes, poor sleep habits and cardiovascular disease.

She understands that while we cannot change our age or our genetic disposition, we can lower our risk through better sleep habits, exercising regularly and eating a heart healthy diet. 

While we all know that exercise and a heart healthy diet are an important component for preventing almost all diseases, Dr. Genova adds yet another important component: strengthening neuroplasticity and cognitive reserve.  

What is Neuroplasticity? It is the ability of the brain to develop and find multiple pathways to solve problems. Think of the brain as an intricate web of roads and streets. If one road is closed, or under construction, we need to take a different route to get to our destination. The brain will give us multiple routes if it is strong enough, it can give us resiliency when faced with a roadblock.  Dr. Genova presents a compelling look at how exercising the brain develops and maintains those multiple pathways.  Exercising the brain can strengthen our neuroplasticity and resiliency thus keeping our memories and cognitive awareness keen.  

How do we strengthen our brain? We need to go beyond crossword puzzles and involve all our senses. Read a book, join a book club, make friends, learn to speak Italian, listen to educational seminars, take a class, do something enjoyable and unfamiliar. Learning new things rich in meaning and involving many of the senses is an ideal way to exercise the brain and have a positive impact on neuroplasticity and resiliency.

So, go for it- try something new! Learn a new language, take up knitting, write a book, start a new hobby or take a cooking class. New experiences can keep you happy, healthy and exercise your brain.

If you want to learn more, The Charles E Smith Life Communities, will be presenting an Evening with Lisa Genova on June 14- click here for more information.