More women die from dementia than men. Women have a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men. Women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than to develop breast cancer (Barnes et al, 2018). Wow these statistics suck if you are a woman.. right! So what can you do today to protect your brain since we can’t really change our biology (without surgical and hormonal intervention)?
Actually there is a lot we can do and here are 3 areas to evaluate to assess your risk and potentially make lifestyle changes that can help protect your brain in the future.
#1. Evaluate your hormones- assess your reproductive history and future. The latest research from the Alzheimer’s Association International conference, July 2018 found women who had three or more children had a 12% lower risk of developing dementia compared with women who had a single child, or those who had a miscarriage (Ryan et al.,2013). Additionally, women who had their first period when they were 16 years of age or older, were at a 22% increased risk of dementia compared with those who had their first period between 10 and 13 years old. Also, early menopause (45 years old or younger) also increases the risk of late in life dementia. (Horder, et al., 2014).
You might think great… I can’t do anything about my circumstances but remember this is about assessing your risk and once you know that then you can evaluate what to do next.
Here are the actual lab values to target: A blood pressure under 120/80 mm Hg, keeping total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL and blood sugar under 100 mg/dL.(Cacciolati, C. et al., 2013).
#2. Evaluate your vascular health- risk and actual diabetes and high blood pressure add additional risk for women and dementia so how are your numbers? Assess your lab values, look at your fasting glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides are a few to just to easily check and are routine labs. A new study out of France showed specific lab vaules target a potential decrease of dementia up to 70 % if all the rules were followed every day… 70 % is pretty impressive right (Gabelle,A., et al 2013)!
#3. Assess your diet and physical activity levels and adjust so you get close to meeting the generally accepted 150 minutes of exercise per week. Again the rules in this 2018 study recommended; no smoking, having a BMI (Body Mass Index) under 25, getting regular exercise, and eating fish twice a week along with making sure you are eating fruits and vegetables at least three times a day.
Talk to your doctor if any of these are high or if you have a family history of vascular disease monitor these and adjust as you need to bring them down to within normal limits.
How close are you to these milestones? Assess each one and determine what you can adjust. It is much more manageable to tweak just a meal a day, an additional walk a day, buying wild fish instead of red meat. Baby steps not stress.
Where do you come out? Be honest, there is no one but you to gain from an honest assessment of your risk, no judgement, just information to inform you so you can make choices for your health.
Simple right, not really in our hectic busy lives these simple rules can be daunting to follow, but the payoff can be dramatic for sure. Hey don’t let the rules stop you even small changes can make a difference and will get you on the way to a health brain and healthy aging! Start with a plan, evaluate where you are today in your health assessment and talk to your healthcare provider to get help and support.
Here’s to your brain health!
Barnes, D., Zhou, J., Walker, R., Lee,S., Boscardin,J., Marcum,Z., Larson,E., Dublin,S.: DEVELOPMENT AND VALIDATION OF THE EHR RISK OF ALZHEIMER’S AND DEMENTIA ASSESSMENT RULE (ERADAR), Innovation in Aging, 2018. Volume 2, Issue suppl_1, Pages 952, https://doi.org/10.1093/geroni/igy031.3530
Cacciolati C, Hanon O, Dufouil C, et al. Categories of hypertension in the elderly and their 1-year evolution. The Three-City study. J. Hypertens. 2013;31:680–689.
Gabelle A, Richard F, Gutierrez LA, Schraen S, Delva F, Rouaud O, Buée L, Dartigues JF, Touchon J, Lambert JC, Berr C. Plasma amyloid-β levels and prognosis in incident dementia cases of the 3-City Study. J Alzheimers Dis. 2013;33(2):381-91
Hörder,H., Johansson,L., Guo, X., Grimby, G., SilkeKern, S., Östling, S., Skoog, I., Midlife cardiovascular fitness and dementia Apr 2018, 90 (15) e1298-e1305; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0000000000005290
Ryan J, Carrière I, Carcaillon L, Dartigues JF, Auriacombe S, Rouaud O, Berr C, Ritchie K, Scarabin PY, Ancelin ML. Estrogen receptor polymorphisms and incident dementia: The prospective 3C study. Alzheimers Dement. 2013 Mar 9. doi:pii: S1552-5260(13)00011-3. 10.1016/j.jalz.2012.12.008.