November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month. It was first given this designation in 1983 by former President Ronald Reagan. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and currently affects approximately 5.8 million men and women, and their families and caregivers.

MIND your brain during Alzheimer’s Awareness month

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Hopefully most of us think about it year-round, but November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness month. It was first given this designation in 1983 by former President Ronald Reagan. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and currently affects approximately 5.8 million men and women, and their families and caregivers. One in six seniors will die from either Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia. Since the year 2000, deaths from heart disease have been on the decline, thanks to early diagnosis, care and treatment but deaths from Alzheimer's disease have continued to rise. 

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia with a decline in brain function. It impacts the brain's memory and ability to think. There is difficulty in planning and solving problems. There is confusion with time and place, and normal usual daily tasks become challenging. There are also mood and personality changes; this is especially difficult for family members. If you live with someone who has Alzheimer's disease, you know that it is important to keep a routine in their day. Tasks should be kept simple so that they are not over-stimulated. They need reassurance to feel safe and calm.

There are two primary risk factors for Alzheimer's disease that are out of our control. Family history is one and age, or getting older, is the other. Two-thirds of the diagnoses are in women and 80 percent are over the age of 80. Prevention sure is important and researchers are trying to figure out this complicated disease and prevention steps that we might all take.

For certain, one prevention step that is essential is to keep high blood pressure under control so there is less wear-and-tear on the arteries in the brain.

Diet-wise, researchers suggest that we incorporate what is called the protective MIND Diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.  This is what is recommended in the MIND diet to prevent Alzheimer's disease:

  • Leafy green vegetables
    • 6 or more servings/week: kale, spinach, collard greens, etc.
  • Other vegetables
    • 1 or more servings/day: broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, etc.
  • Berries
    • 2 servings/week : raspberries, blueberries, etc.
  • Whole grains
    • 3 or more servings/day: oats, brown rice, whole wheat, etc.
  • Fish
    • 1 or more servings/week: salmon, sardines, tuna, etc.
  • Poultry
    • 2 servings/week : skin removed
  • Beans/legumes
    • 3 servings/week : kidney, black, Great Northern etc.
  • Nuts
    • 5 servings/week : almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc.
  • Olive oil: use as main cooking oil

The other MIND diet recommendations are to go easy on intake of red meats, fried foods, butter and cheese, as well as sweets.

Alzheimer's disease is tough for everyone involved. Researchers are learning more about prevention steps that we can take now to reduce our future risk. The known prevention steps – regular exercise and a plant-based diet- are important for overall health and chronic disease prevention so we should move on these now.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.