Evidence-Based Reviews

Can lifestyle modifications delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

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Physicians should encourage their patients to engage in intellectually stimulating activities and creative leisure-time activities several times/week to enhance their cognitive reserves and delay AD onset (level III evidence with respect to AD risk reduction/delay).

Social activity

Social engagement may be an additional protective factor against AD. In a large 4-year prospective study, increased loneliness in cognitively intact older adults doubled the risk of AD.24 Data from the large French cohort PAQUID (Personnes Agées QUID) emphasized the importance of a patient’s social network as a protective factor against AD. In this cohort, the perception of reciprocity in relationships with others (the perception that a person had received more than he or she had given) was associated with a 53% reduction in AD risk (level III).25 In another longitudinal cohort study, social activity was found to decrease the incidence of subjective cognitive decline, which is a prodromal syndrome for MCI and AD (level III).26

A major confounder in studies assessing for social activity is the uncertainty if social withdrawal is a modifiable risk factor or an early manifestation of AD, since apathetic patients with AD tend to be socially withdrawn.27 Another limitation of measuring the impact of social activity relative to AD risk is the difficulty in isolating social activities from activities that have physical and mental activity components, such as leisure-time activities.28

Meditation/spiritual activity

Chronic psychological stress is believed to compromise limbic structures that regulate stress-related behaviors and the memory network, which might explain how being prone to psychological distress may be associated with MCI or AD.29 Cognitive stress may increase the oxidative stress and telomere shortening implicated in the neuro­degenerative processes of AD.30 In one study, participants who were highly prone to psychological distress were found to be at 3 times increased risk for developing AD, after adjusting for depression symptoms and physical and mental activities (level III).31 By reducing chronic psychological stress, meditation techniques offer a promising preventive option against AD.

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) have gained increased attention in the past decade. They entail directing one’s attention towards the present moment, thereby decreasing ruminative thoughts and stress arousal.32 Recent RCTs have shown that MBI may promote brain health in older adults not only by improving psychological well-being but also by improving attentional control33 and functional connectivity in brain regions implicated in executive functioning,34 as well as by modulating inflammatory processes implicated in AD.35 Furthermore, an RCT of patients diagnosed with MCI found that compared with memory enhancement training, a weekly 60-minute yoga session improved memory and executive functioning.36

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