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Healthy Living with Alzheimer's Disease

The combination of social, mental, and physical stimulation is the best medicine for a healthy life. So even after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, pleasurable activities should be continued and modified as needed. Regular exercise and a nutritious diet are also important and can help patients cope better with the impact of this disorder.

On this page, you will find the following:

Keep Your Mind Active

Preliminary evidence suggests that staying mentally active may be associated with preservation of cognitive function. Children and young adults build up brain “reserves” by reading and undertaking mental challenges, and older adults can continue to build these brain connections through stimulating activities. In fact, building these cognitive reserves is a lifelong process in which some nerve cells (neurons) form, some die, and others interconnect. Reading progressively more challenging books, learning a musical instrument, studying a new language, creating art, playing chess, and engaging in other mental activities all help form these vital neural connections that can last a lifetime; and they may buffer people from cognitive decline.

As mentioned above, there are many activities that can stimulate the mind. However, the pursuit of tried-and-true favorite pastimes such as board and card games, crossword puzzles, brain teasers, and word games is also valuable. Most of these have the added benefit of maintaining and increasing social contact with friends and family. Lately, seniors have been playing more video games and using the computer to entertain and energize their brains. Reading books, magazines, and newspapers; writing and corresponding through mail and email; and even conversing and singing all provide mental stimulation. Other examples of beneficial activities include visiting museums, attending plays, and finding creative new ways to carry out routines.

In a 2001 study led by Dr. Robert Friedland at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, researchers suggest that development of Alzheimer’s disease later in life may be reflective of environmental factors operating over the course of a lifetime. They focused on 26 lifetime "non-occupational activities" such as playing a musical instrument, gardening, engaging in physical activities, and playing mentally engaging board games. The researchers found that the more active adults were significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life and that the healthy older adults had been more mentally and physically active between the ages of 40 and 60 than those who later developed Alzheimer's disease. These findings may be because inactivity is a risk factor for the disease or because inactivity is a reflection of early presence of the disease, or both.

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Lifelong exercise reduces a person's chances of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases, all of which may be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. The brain also benefits greatly from the increased blood circulation brought about and sustained by regular physical activity. Exercise improves overall physical and mental fitness, and emotional health as well. It is an excellent way to release stress and maintain a healthy weight. A combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and activity to increase flexibility is recommended.

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Eat a varied diet that includes vegetables, legumes (for example, beans, peas, and seeds), fruits, whole grains, and fish. It should be low in saturated fat and added sugar. Consume foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, found mostly in “oily” fish (e.g., tuna and salmon) but also in nuts and seeds, as well as certain oils such as canola and olive. Ensure that fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants (including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthein) are part of your diet (for example, green leafy vegetables such as spinach; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower; and berries, tomatoes, red grapes, and carrots). “Living with Alzheimer’s Disease” and other useful publications can be found on our website.

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Disclaimer: The information provided is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation and is not intended to constitute medical advice. It should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.


Last Review: 03/21/15

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