June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.
About two-thirds of people with Alzheimer’s disease are women.
According to Jessica Caldwell, PhD, of Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, we can’t change every risk factor that plays into developing Alzheimer’s – but there are some ways women can reduce their risk.
“Some of the reasons why women are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, or more so than men, are known and aren’t things that we can really change. So, we live longer than men – we don’t change that. We’re more susceptible to certain genetic effects, and that’s not changeable,” she said. “But, on the other hand, some of our vulnerabilities like not being as physically active as men, or having more negative brain effects of diabetes and hypertension, high blood pressure, those things we can do something about.”
Dr. Caldwell said loss of estrogen at menopause may also impact Alzheimer’s risk.
Chronic, unmanaged stress taxes the brain too.
But women can take action – with exercise, which benefits the brain and reduces stress.
“Really, the key is being consistent so, doing something that you can maintain and keep up for not just a week or a couple of weeks, but for lifetime,” said Dr. Caldwell. “Research has shown that even low intensity exercise like walking, if you do it consistently, really benefits brain health.”
Treating diabetes and high blood pressure can reduce risk as well.
Dr. Caldwell said a heart healthy diet is good for the brain too.
And social interaction can ease stress, depression and isolation – which are also linked to brain health.
“Picking up the phone, or having a call over the internet – when you can see each other’s faces, sometimes seeing faces can really boost that spirit or increase the communication quality, versus over the phone,” said Dr. Caldwell. “The important thing is to reach out, keep talking.”
According to Dr. Caldwell, at least finishing high school can be protective against Alzheimer’s disease.
She says sleep is important as well – women should be getting seven to eight hours each night.