This could be the earliest sign of Alzheimer’s disease (Hint: It’s not getting lost)

Can’t tell Times Square from Timbuktu? Your poor sense of direction could be a bigger issue than you originally thought. In fact, struggling to create a mental map in your mind might be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research from Washington University in St. Louis. Keep an eye out for more of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s.

Three groups of participants participated in the study: healthy people, adults with early-stage Alzheimer’s, and people with preclinical disease. Although those with preclinical disease don’t show any symptoms yet, they have lower levels of a certain biomarker, which can be a sign of the disease before diagnosis. This newly discovered symptom might be an early sign of dementia, too.

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8 unexpected ways to decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s
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8 unexpected ways to decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s

Pay attention to the food you eat.

The right diet can contribute to lowering your risk of cognitive decline — in particular a diet called the MIND diet, short for "Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay"

It's a hybrid version of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, focusing on the aspects of those diets that have to do with the brain. Berries, olive oil, nuts, and dark, leafy greens are staples of the diet, which was designed based on large-scale studies of cognitive decline and ranked third on US News and World Report's annual best diet list.

A study of almost 1,000 seniors found the diet appeared to lower the risk of Alzheimer's by 35% for those who followed it moderately and by 53% in people who followed it closely.

Plus, it fits in with what Dr. Maria Carrillo, chief scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association told Business Insider in July 2016: "Have fun, eat healthy meals that are good for you, and you may end up helping your brain as well as your heart."

Maintain your hearing.

According to a new report in the journal Lancet, losing your hearing can increase your risk of Alzheimer's. While the reason for this isn't entirely clear, the researchers suggested it could have to do with the social isolation that comes from losing your hearing and how that affects the brain when it's not able to work at processing sound. 

Avoiding loud noises, and wearing protective earplugs could help stave off this hearing loss. 

Stay active.

Citing intervention-based trials and epidemiological studies, the National Institute on Aging found that exercise can also play a key role in reducing your risk for Alzheimer's and general cognitive decline. Neurotrack's program recommends strength training and cardiovascular exercises, said Kaplan.

Exercise can have additional health benefits as well, adding to the idea that what's good for your heart and body may also be good for your brain.

Decrease your stress levels where possible.

There is evidence to suggest a link between stress and an increased risk of Alzheimer's and cognitive decline.

A small 2009 study found that of the 41 participants with mild cognitive impairment, those who had higher stress ratings also had faster rates of cognitive decline.

The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to manage stress, such as breathing exercises, meditation and yoga.

Maintain healthy sleep habits.

Too little sleep can do a whole host of things to your body and brain.

A 2014 review of observational studies found that poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer's. Though the researcher said there needs to be more research into the exact mechanisms of why that is, they concluded that "healthy sleep appears to play an important role in maintaining brain health with age, and may play a key role in [Alzheimer's disease] prevention."

Don't smoke.

According to the World Health Organization, smoking is associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. Researchers think this has to do with the vessels that carry blood around our body and to our brains, which are also linked to things like stroke and heart disease.

Stay socially active.

Staying social can be a great way to lower your risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's. According to the National Institute on Aging, staying cognitively active, either with intellectual stimulation or staying socially engaged, is linked with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's.

That social component is something Neurotrack is working hard to address, said Kaplan. The company has plans to build an internal social network. Since the assessment launched in December 2016, she said she'd seen thousands join a private Facebook group to chat about their results. Kaplan said there's even one group in New Zealand that has started meeting up for coffee after they took the assessment.

Read, play games, or otherwise stimulate your mind.

Along the lines of social engagement, staying stimulated intellectually has also been associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. That kind of stimulation can be anything from reading to crossword puzzles or attending lectures and playing memory-based games, according to the National Institute on Aging.

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A virtual computer maze tested the spatial navigational skills of all three groups. As the researchers anticipated, the participants with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease received a lower score than the healthy group did. However, those with preclinical Alzheimer’s performed poorly, too. That could mean that difficulty using a map (or other lack of navigational skills) might be a symptom of the disease that shows up decades or more before a patient is diagnosed.

“Spatial navigation abilities, particularly the ability to form a mental map of the environment, are associated with a brain structure called the hippocampus,” said study author Denise Head, PhD. “Changes to this structure seem to occur before individuals are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.”

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Notable people with Alzheimer's
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Notable people with Alzheimer's
This file photo dated 04 November, 1991 shows US President Ronald Reagan giving a speech at the dedication of the library bearing his name in Simi Valley, California. He was US president from 1981 to 1989 and retreated from public life after it was revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. (Photo by J. David Ake, AFP/Getty Images)
Glenn Campbell performs during The Goodbye Tour at the Ryman Auditorium on January 3, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ed Rode/Getty Images)
Picture dated 18 May 1991 of US actor Charles Bronson during the 44th Cannes film festival, southern France. Bronson died 30 August 2003 in Los Angeles of complications from pneumonia. (Photo by Gerard Julien, AFP/Getty Images)
392653 01: Actor Burgess Meredith performs in the television show 'The Twilight Zone.' (Photo Courtesy of Sci Fi Channel/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31: Actor James Doohan recieves his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame August 31, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 17: Malcolm Young of AC/DC performs on stage at Wembley Arena on January 17th, 1986 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Peter Still/Redferns)
NORMAN ROCKWELL'S AMERICA -- Pictured: Artist Norman Rockwell -- (Photo by: Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Publicity close up of Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth wearing ornately decorated gloves and holding a cigarette in a cigarette holder.
NEW YORK CITY - FEBRUARY 29: Aaron Copeland attends 10th Annual Grammy Awards on February 29, 1968 at the New York Hilton Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage) (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Actor Peter Falk poses as he arrives for the premiere of his new film "Lakeboat" September 24, 2001 in Los Angeles. The film is an adaptation of David Mamet's comic play about a grad student who takes a summer job on a Great Lakes freighter and sees life through the eyes of his low-brow crew members. The film opens in limited release in Los Angeles September 28. REUTERS/Rose Prouser RMP/jp
Estelle Getty (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)
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If you can’t live without your GPS, though, you can rest easy. Further research is needed before researchers can confidently say whether everyone with navigational challenges will go on to develop Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, you can take up these 36 daily habits to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

But you should still discuss these symptoms with your doctor, especially if they’re new and you’re under the age of 50, says study coauthor John Morris, MD, director of the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine. Your doctor may recommend a few neuro-imaging tests to evaluate your brain’s structure and functioning. Thankfully, the future in this field looks bright; new technology could soon reverse memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.

[Source: Prevention]

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