07/20/2011 08:41 am ET | Updated Sep 19, 2011

Alzheimer Prevention Benefits You Now and Later

Trying to get excited about preventing Alzheimer's from striking you may be a bit like getting enthused over socking money away for retirement. I understand that the notion may lead thoughts like these to pop into your head:

"I'm only (insert your age here). They'll have a cure for Alzheimer's long before I catch it."

"If I get Alzheimer's, I'm not even going to be aware that I have it. I'd rather focus on today, when I can appreciate my life."

"I'll die of something else long before I get Alzheimer's."

The truth is, people do stick back for retirement, and odds are good that most of us will live long enough to reap the rewards of our savings. As far as the reasons for not warding off Alzheimer's, it's never safe to presume that medicine will find a cure for a disease, since it hasn't yet for many of them. Secondly, losing one's cognitive ability is heartbreaking both for the person it affects and his or her loved ones.

Thirdly, by taking steps to prevent Alzheimer's, you can also keep yourself safe from diseases that kill many people in their 50s, 40s and even earlier. New research presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2011 confirms that our daily choices can make a very real impact on our risk of this disease.

In one study, researchers estimated that many cases of Alzheimer's in America may be due to factors that we really should change anyway, like physical inactivity (21 percent), smoking (11 percent), hypertension and obesity in middle age (8 and 7 percent), and diabetes (3 percent). Other potentially changeable factors include depression (15 percent) and low education (7 percent). Reducing all seven risk factors by 25 percent could help prevent nearly half a million Alzheimer's cases in America in coming years.

Think about how many other life-threatening diseases you can protect yourself from by getting these risk factors out of your life. Lung cancer -- and many other types of cancer -- heart disease, diabetes, and strokes jump to mind. You can also boost your quality of life by reducing depression with self-help strategies like exercise.

In another study, researchers examined older people's "cognitive resilience," which meant minimal decrease in cognitive performance over three years. Factors linked to maintaining good mental power included feeling less stress, anxiety, and depression, perhaps due to healthy coping styles.

As we discuss in "The New Prescription", Alzheimer's can have a powerful impact on your financial health, as well as your physical health. The care you'd need after an Alzheimer's diagnosis can eat up the money you've socked away all your working years and require your loved ones to set their own interests aside to look after you.

But many chronic diseases can have the same effect on your life decades earlier. Why not live a healthier lifestyle now to prevent diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease ... and call it practice for later?

For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. More medical care doesn't mean better health. Dr. Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers' eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders' insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it.