It will cost about $2 billion this year to care for Americans with dementia, the Alzheimer's Association calculates. More than $140 billion of that will be spent via Medicare and Medicaid. Another estimated $210 billion in care will be provided by friends and family -- people who won't receive a paycheck for their heroic efforts.
The organization is holding its annual meeting this week where its members are reviewing research about the disease. There have been no breathtaking revelations about cures as of late, but there have been a lot of reports suggesting that there are things people can factor in to their retirement planning to reduce their chances of getting this devastating ailment -- and most of them don't cost money.
The No. 1 factor is remaining active, says Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association and an associate professor at Rush University Medical Center. "The strongest evidence for lifestyle-based Alzheimer's risk reduction is for physical activity," Hartley says.
For a long time, all of this data was what researchers call anecdotal -- reports that aren't carefully measured by scientific methodology. But recently, there have been several long-term studies that document positive associations between aerobic activity, particularly walking, and cognitive health. The latest of these studies show that resistance training is particularly valuable for preserving your brain in retirement.
What kind of resistance training are we talking about? Hartley says it doesn't have to be barbells at the gym. You can get results by using resistance bands that sell for less than $10 -- or by filling milk jugs with sand and lifting them. Whatever gets oxygen to the brain three or four times a week works.
Hartley warns that it is a bad idea to start any weight training program without first consulting your doctor. But for most people, that's not a stumbling block -- inertia is the biggest negative factor. "Just get up and start walking," Hartley urges. "Better health equals better brain function."