Prevention

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?

As they get older, many people worry about developing Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. If they have a family member with Alzheimer’s, they may wonder about their family history and genetic risk. As many as 5.5 million Americans age 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s. Many more are expected to develop the disease as the population ages—unless ways to prevent or delay it are found.

Although scientists have conducted many studies, and more are ongoing, so far nothing has been proven to prevent or delay dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. But researchers have identified promising strategies and are learning more about what might—and might not—work.

We know that changes in the brain can occur many years before the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear. These early brain changes point to a possible window of opportunity to prevent or delay debilitating memory loss and other symptoms of dementia. While research may identify specific interventions that will prevent or delay the disease in some people, it’s likely that many individuals may need a combination of treatments based on their own risk factors.

Researchers are studying many approaches to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s. Some focus on drugs, some on lifestyle or other changes. Let’s look at the most promising interventions to date and what we know about them.

Evaluating the Latest Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention Research

A recent review of research looked carefully at the evidence on ways to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s dementia or age-related cognitive decline. Led by a committee of experts from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the review found “encouraging but inconclusive” evidence for three types of interventions:

Increased physical activity

Blood pressure control for people with high blood pressure (also called hypertension)

Cognitive training

The evidence for other interventions, such as medications and diet, was not as strong. However, scientists are continuing to explore these and other possible preventions.