Five ways to help reduce risk of cognitive decline


By Jim Herlihy | Alzheimer’s Association

During Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in June, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging all Americans to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors that may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

There are currently more than 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s disease, including 76,000 Coloradans.

Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, one in three seniors age 85 and older will have Alzheimer’s disease. While some brain changes are inevitable as we age, there is a growing body of research to suggest having the necessary resources to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors, including healthy eating, exercising regularly, not smoking and staying cognitively engaged may help us age healthier and help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

“Understanding strategies to reduce risk of cognitive decline is a robust area of research currently,” said Heather M. Snyder, Ph.D., vice president, Medical and Scientific Relations, Alzheimer’s Association. “Researchers are working to determine what may be the optimal lifestyle interventions to reduce cognitive decline, but there are steps we can take now to possibly help reduce the risk of cognitive decline as we age.”

During Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association offers five tips that may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline:

• Keep your heart healthy. Studies have consistently produced strong evidence that a healthier heart is connected to a healthier brain. One recent study shows that aggressively treating high blood pressure can help reduce the development of mild cognitive impairment.

• Exercise regularly. Regular cardiovascular exercise helps increase blood flow to the body and brain, and there is strong evidence that regular physical activity is linked to better memory and thinking.

• Maintain a heart-healthy diet. Evidence suggests a healthful diet is linked to better cognitive functioning and may reduce the risk of heart disease as well. Stick to a meal schedule full of fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. The MIND diet — a hybrid of the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet — is a brain-healthy diet that emphasizes whole grains, green leafy vegetables, poultry, fish and berries.

• Get proper sleep. Maintaining a regular, uninterrupted sleep pattern benefits physical and psychological health, and helps clear waste from the brain. Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night and try to keep a routine bedtime.

• Stay socially and mentally active. Meaningful social engagement may support cognitive health, so stay connected with friends and family. Engage your mind by doing activities that are challenging to you such as learning a new language or musical instrument.

“Incorporating these strategies becomes especially important as we age,” Snyder said. “Research suggests that these lifestyle interventions in combination may have the greatest benefit and are good to consider at any age, but even if you begin with one or two, you’re moving in the right direction.” 

To learn more about Alzheimer’s and other dementia, visit or call the association’s free 24/7 Helpline at (800) 272-3900.