Whether you're struggling with Alzheimer's yourself or watching a loved one live with it, there is no debating it's an awful disease. And as more researchers are tracking possible triggers of the disease, they're coming across more data connecting everyday exposures to an increased risk. While no study has yet to definitively say, "Yes, this is what causes Alzheimer's," the items on this list are believed to play a role and should be avoided at all costs.
Your psyche likely plays a role in Alzheimer's, according Yale researchers. Negative beliefs about aging, including thoughts that old people are "decrepit," can spark brain changes linked to Alzheimer's disease.
"We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalize from society that can result in pathological brain changes," says study author Becca Levy, PhD, associate professor of public health and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health. "Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realize that these negative beliefs about aging can be mitigated, and positive beliefs about aging can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable."
Lead isn't just a threat to children. A 2009 study found that adults with high blood lead levels face a higher risk of dementia.
Among those who had higher-than-average lead levels, 21 percent had scores that indicated mild cognitive impairment. Also, lead levels tended to be higher in people who suffered from high blood pressure, itself a risk factor for dementia. Previous research suggests high levels of lead in older adults raise their risk for cardiovascular disease.
In addition to raising blood pressure, lead can cause oxidative stress on the brain and increase inflammation in the body.
To avoid lead exposure, have the interior and exterior paint in your home tested for lead if you live in a pre-1978 house and say no to vinyl products (include purses—yellow ones often test especially high in lead).
Eating green, blue, and red fruits and veggies, which are high in antioxidants, can help mitigate some of the oxidative stress caused by heavy metals.
Common medications, ranging from antidepressants to over-the-counter antihistamines, have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer's disease, according to recent research published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The drugs in question are anticholinergic medications. These drugs include non-prescription diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl), tricyclic antidepressants like doxepin (Sinequan), first-generation antihistamines like chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), and antimuscarinics for bladder control like oxybutynin (Ditropan).
The researchers found that these effects are dose dependent (the more anticholinergic medication you take, the higher your risk for developing dementia), but the findings also suggest that the effects may not be reversible, even after you discontinue use of the drug.
If further research upholds those findings, it could mean that testing for DDE levels in the body could lead to earlier diagnosis, which has been shown to help ease symptoms of Alzheimer's.
DDT has been banned in the U.S. since 1972, but it's still used elsewhere, and DDE and other breakdown products can enter the environment from waste sites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes the largest amount of DDT in a person's diet comes from meat, poultry, dairy products, and fish, including sport fish.
There's no denying that our minds and bodies are connected, even when it comes to Alzheimer's disease and dementia. A landmark 2010 study published in Neurology discovered a 50 percent increase in the risk of developing dementia with each 10-point increase in score on depression tests administered at the start of the study. The risks were similar for Alzheimer's disease, for which there was a 40 percent increase in risk for each 10-point increase in depression score. For both dementia and Alzheimer's disease, depressed adults were 1.5 times more likely to develop one of the two diseases than nondepressed adults.
The key may be a lifestyle that can help protect against Alzheimer's and depression:
Aerobic exercise has been shown to delay or maybe even prevent Alzheimer's in people facing the highest risk of developing the disease. In 2015, research published by The Alzheimer's Association found you can lower your risk of Alzheimer's 53 percent by adopting this diet.