Can Lifestyle Changes Help Slow The Progression Of Alzheimer's Disease?

Dr. Paul Aisen answers the question: 'Lifestyle Changes to Slow Progression?'

May 4, 2009 -- Question: Can lifestyle changes help slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease?

Answer: Many patients and their families want to know what they can do today to help slow Alzheimer's disease or prevent it from occurring. We don't know for sure. There is no strong, irrefutable scientific evidence that anything helps reduce the risk or slow progression of disease. We think the ultimate answer lies in better treatments, which fortunately may not be too far away.

But there is general advice that we tend to give -- advice that is supported by scientific studies although they are not conclusive studies. And in general we recommend that people who are concerned about risk of Alzheimer's disease or progression of Alzheimer's disease pay close attention to their general health. That is, attend to issues of blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. We recommend that people maintain a vigorous lifestyle and that means physical activity, social interactions, and cognitive or mental activity.

Which types of activity are most effective? It's impossible to say for sure. There's some evidence that physical activity is particularly important in maintaining good brain health. But individuals should do what they gain pleasure from, what they're likely to be able to continue doing, and again, that may include exercise (physical activity), cognitive activity such as reading and learning new things, doing crossword puzzles, playing chess, and social activity, that is, going out and meeting people and engaging in conversation. Even though all of these things may be more challenging to an individual already affected with the disease, we encourage people to stay as active as they can.