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Ask the Doctor – Gustavo Alva, M.D.

Q: How can I keep my brain healthy as I age?

A: There is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but we understand its mechanisms enough that we can now offer medications and suggest lifestyle changes to keep people who are at-risk of dementia from ever developing advanced symptoms of the disease.

In addition to innovative new therapies, Alzheimer’s research has uncovered some proven behavioral methods to keep dementia at bay. Some of those include:

Social Activity. Research out of the United Kingdom suggests that a person who saw friends almost every day at the age of 60 had a 12% lower risk of developing dementia later on, compared with someone who only saw one or two friends once every few months. As the threat of COVID-19 diminishes it is more important than ever to rekindle those relationships that may have been on the backburner.

Cognitive Activity. Studies have found staying cognitively active can reduce a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 46%. Playing board or card games with friends, taking classes, and picking up a new skill, such as learning a new language or musical instruments, are often cited as ways for people to keep their mind active. Local organizations, like senior centers or community colleges, or national organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, can connect people with fun, engaging activities that can help preserve cognitive functioning.

Physical Activity. It is well known that physical fitness can lower one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, but scientists have also discovered regular exercise can reduce an individual’s risk of developing dementia by about 30%, and Alzheimer’s disease specifically, by 45%. Exercise helps keep blood flowing to the brain, increasing oxygen, nutrients, and the production of neurotransmitters that protect the health of brain cells and connections.

Volunteering. Did you know retiring from work could translate to an increased risk in dementia? That is because people report a loss of sense of purpose once they walk away from the workforce. Volunteering is a great way to fill in the gap, particularly for those who volunteer on a regular basis for organizations and causes they find meaningful.

Understanding Your Risk. Years ago, it was common to hear people say they would “rather not know” if they were at increased risk of developing dementia. Today, more people understand that risk assessment and early detection can help slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and maintain quality of life. One way to take control of your brain health is to engage in a baseline assessment with the Orange County Vital Brain Program. For those who are found to be at higher risk or who have an early diagnosis, enrolling in clinical trials, such as the trials currently running at Hoag, can make a big difference in a person’s quality of life and the course of disease progression.

If a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease feels like an unstoppable train, know that there are many people pulling on the emergency break – and even trying to move the tracks. To learn more, call 949-764-6288, or check out For more information about the AD clinical trials currently open at Hoag, email The study drugs will be offered at no cost for eligible patients.