Preventing Neurodegenerative Diseases

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As the aging population grows in the United States and other countries, neurodegenerative diseases are also increasing worldwide. The Alzheimer’s Association projects that the annual number of new cases of Alzheimer disease and other dementias will double by 2050.1 A survey of 1,600 Americans by the Alzheimer’s Association, published in Reader’s Digest, found that 91 percent of respondents believed they could slow or prevent cognitive decline, but didn’t know how to do so.2Functional Medicine takes a systems-biology approach to the complex problem of neurodegeneration and has found several methods for improving brain health.

One intervention that helps prevent neurodegeneration is exercise. For patients diagnosed with Parkinson and Alzheimer disease, increasing physical exercise is linked to a number of positive health results, including slowing cognitive decline and potentially protecting the brain against that decline.3 The biological mechanisms for this improvement are still being explored, but hypotheses range from increased blood flow in the brain to changes in nitric oxide or decreased loss of neurons.3

Inactivity in patients diagnosed with Parkinson disease has been correlated with worse symptoms and disease severity.4 On the other hand, exercise like regular dance classes has been shown to improve many clinical measures, including balance and disease severity.5 For the elderly participants in a community study, even minimal exercise improved simple attention, a measure of cognitive ability.6 This suggests that exercise may be protective and stimulate increased cognitive ability, perhaps even more so in at-risk populations.

Exercise is just one possible way to help prevent neurodegeneration. Learn more about other strategies to support patients with a family history of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as
three people walking those already diagnosed.