Studies, opinions and conjecture about causes and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease are hardly in short supply. It seems that every week, there is suspicion of a new contributing cause to the increasing rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia. In the last several years, everything from processed foods to genetics has been named as contributing factors, yet there is very little information that is conclusive. And to date, there is no single thing that we can point to and say “This is a definite cause of Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
With little concrete information to work with, it seems that, in addition to focusing on possible causes, it would be helpful to focus on ways that may help in slowing or even preventing the onset of the disease, while also offering tools for management and better quality of life should the disease manifest. This is not to suggest there are foolproof preventative measures. But there are ways to give people better odds against the disease.
For example, a recent study from Yale University suggests that “individuals who hold negative beliefs about aging are more likely to have brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease” (Science News, December, 2015). The leader of the Yale study, Becca Levy said:
“We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalize from society that can result in pathological brain changes.”
It would be an oversimplification and even somewhat irresponsible to suggest that dementia can be combated simply with a positive outlook on life and aging. But it does set a better stage for both the process of aging itself and managing any health issues that arise.
There are many other factors that have been suggested as contributors to Alzheimer’s that are in no small part lifestyle and even attitude related. Obesity, inactivity, high blood sugar, lack of social engagement and lack of sensory stimulation have all been considered as possible contributing factors. To some degree, these all stem from lifestyle choices, and an individual’s choices depend, at least in part, on their approach to life and aging.
Of course, this is all difficult to measure, and even more difficult to prove, but at least it is being studied and considered. In fact, the nation’s longest running study on aging, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (now 58 years and running!) is giving us strong indications that lifestyle is a major contributor to disease prevention. So at the very least, we can be confident that a healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude can certainly do no harm.