How are you celebrating World Alzheimer's Day today? Of course, it's hardly a celebration, since the idea is to focus on the awful fact that Alzheimer's is about to swamp us with the worst epidemic the world has ever seen -- 115 million cases, including 13.5 million Americans (up from 5.1 million today) by 2050, and the collapse of our health care system, according to the Alzheimer's Association, one of the organizers of this day, on September 21.
One way to try to hold back this catastrophe, brought on by aging baby boomers, is spending more on research. The National Institutes of Health now antes up a paltry $527 million a year to study Alzheimer's, compared to $6.1 billion for cancer, $3 billion for HIV/AIDS and $1.9 billion for heart disease. NIH should up Alzheimer's research money to at least $2 billion annually, say experts.
In the meantime, don't expect a cure anytime soon. The last big test of a miracle drug, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, actually made Alzheimer's worse.
Right now, your best bet for escaping Alzheimer's is to save yourself. And prominent Alzheimer's researchers have already figured out countless ways to do it. Here are ten things they will be doing on World Alzheimer's Day -- and do every day -- and say you should do, too, to keep Alzheimer's out of your future.
1. Take a hike: Nothing beats walking for boosting memory and flooding your brain with chemicals that serve as "miracle gro" to create bigger neurons. Take a brisk 30-minute walk, or three-10 minute sessions on a treadmill. A nature walk through a park also improves memory.
2. Eat an apple or two: Apples stimulate production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is what the Alzheimer's drug Aricept also does, say University of Massachusetts researchers. You get the same benefits from two 8-ounce glasses of apple juice.
3. Drink a few cups of coffee: "I try to drink five cups of coffee a day," says Gary Arendash at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. He says the caffeine blocks build-up of Alzheimer's brain toxins. In one study, drinking three to five cups of coffee a day cut Alzheimer's risk 65 percent.
4. Treat yourself to a little dark chocolate: It can boost blood circulation in your brain, lower blood pressure and inhibit stroke damage, all important in preventing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Be sure cocoa content is at least 70%. Even a half ounce of rich dark chocolate a day may be enough.
5. Surf the internet for an hour: Yes, a good Google search can stimulate an older brain and possibly improve thinking and memory. So can playing video games and doing certain online brain games. For some that have been scientifically tested, check out www.positscience.com
6. Do something new: Your brain cells are stimulated when you think of or do anything new. People who do novel mental activities reduce their risk of cognitive decline. Important: you must make a mental effort; breezing through crossword puzzles doesn't count.
7. Eat a cup of berries: If you want to make forgetful old lab animals "younger and smarter," just feed them blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or cranberries, say Tufts University researchers. How much? At least a cup a day.
8. Take a Multi-vitamin: It can slow brain aging, especially if it includes high antioxidants, such as C, E and alpha lipoic acid. Be sure to get 500 mcg B12, 800 mcg folic acid, 20 mg B6 a day -- doses found to reduce brain shrinkage up to 50 percent in people with mild memory problems.
9. Have a Curry Meal: A constituent of curry spices known as curcumin blocks Alzheimer's-like brain damage and boosts memory in animal and lab tests. India where curry is a staple has a very low rate of Alzheimer's.
10. Get together with friends and family: Make it a point to yak it up today, the larger your circle of friends and family, the better. Extroverts with high social engagement have less cognitive failure as they age. Being married or having a significant other dramatically cuts your odds of developing Alzheimer's.
If we all do everything we can to save our own brains from Alzheimer's, we may one day actually be celebrating World Alzheimer's Day as a victory over this human tragedy.
Jean Carper is the author of "100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer's and Age-Related Memory Loss." (Little, Brown, September 2010). She has posted more than 200 scientific references to studies on slowing and preventing Alzheimer's on her blog www.jeancarper.com.
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