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Cheri Burcham

Earlier this month I attended the Healthy Brain Aging Risk and Prevention Conference sponsored by SIU Medicine and their Neuroscience Institute.

Conferences and workshops like this one is a great way to get the latest information so I can pass it on to you!

One of the featured speakers Dr. Mehul Trivedi, assistant professor of the Department of Psychiatry at the SIU School of Medicine, shared with us that the risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease that we have no control over are increasing age, family history and genetics.

Women, African-Americans and Hispanic Americans are also at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. But what I found amazing was that 50 percent of all cases of Alzheimer’s Disease are due to modifiable risk factors. These are risk factors that can be altered by a person’s lifestyle and health behaviors -- things that we have control of.

Many of these modifiable risk factors that Trivedi and other experts covered that day were the same ones that have been brought up in my healthy brain classes like Wits Fitness. I have also added additional ones spotlighted by the Alzheimer’s Association. Let’s review:

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  • Be physically active – Almost 90 percent of U.S. citizens do not get enough exercise. Fun fact: Compared to Paleolithic Stone Age people who put in about 24,000 steps a day, the average person today may get around 5,000 steps a day. It is recommended that we get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity in a week and add resistance training twice a week for the most effective combination. Adding exercises that help with flexibility and balance would be even more beneficial.
  • Follow a healthy diet – a good heart-healthy diet is also good for the brain.
  • Be social – do not isolate yourself. Routinely visit and stay engaged with friends and family, be involved in the community, volunteer, and/or join a group or club.
  • Take care of your physical health – stop smoking, avoid excess alcohol consumption, visit your health care provider regularly and follow their instructions for care of illnesses, maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure.
  • Get quality sleep – inadequate sleep can make Alzheimer’s Disease worse. Do what you can to get the best sleep possible by changing your sleeping environment (lighting, temperature, etc.), your schedule (when you exercise, eat, go out), and possibly check with your health care provider about pharmacological interventions.
  • Manage stress – use whatever techniques works for you.
  • Challenge your brain – participate in mentally stimulating activities that you enjoy and challenge you.

Worldwide, there are 50 million people with dementia with 10 million new cases every year. Until we find a cure, we can at least work on these modifiable risk factors – and although it is never too late to start, the earlier you start – the better! Midlife is a critical period, so beginning healthy lifestyles as soon as possible will benefit your entire body, including the brain!

I plan to share more of this information in next week’s column, so stay tuned and try to practice one of these healthy lifestyle factors this week.

For more information on this topic or other family life-related topics, contact Cheri Burcham at University of Illinois Extension at 217-543-3755 or at cburcham@illinois.edu For more information on University of Illinois Unit 19 programming and to read more helpful articles, visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/index.html or call us at 217-345-7034. Also visit the Family Files Blog at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb380/

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