Alzheimer’s isn’t just a disease that begins later in life.  What happens to your child’s brain now seems to have a dramatic impact on his or her likelihood of Alzheimer’s decades later.

Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Center on Aging, says the belief that Alzheimer’s is entirely genetic and unpreventable is perhaps the greatest misconception about the disease. In fact, you can even have significant Alzheimer’s pathology and no symptoms of dementia if you have a high cognitive reserve, but you’ve got to use it or you risk losing it.

Columbia University says that cognitive reserve is built up by life experiences, such as education, lifestyle, and recreational activities. These have been shown to have a profound impact on how we age, specifically on whether we will develop Alzheimer’s symptoms or not. The earlier you start, the better, so taking proactive measures in childhood  is one of the wisest choices a parent can make. And the more activities, the better: the effect is cumulative.

According to the latest research, here are five proactive steps you can take now to help save your child from Alzheimer’s and memory loss later in life.

1 | Prevent head injuries – even mild ones

Insist your child wear a helmet during their rough and tumble outdoor playtime. Activities such as skating, skateboarding, bicycling, hockey, football, and other contact sports all require a helmet to be worn at all times. In the case of baseball games, make sure your child is wearing a helmet while batting, at minimum. Small repetitive concussions can cause damage, leading to memory loss and Alzheimer’s years later.

According to an article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information:

One study of 37 former professional soccer players found mild to severe deficits in the areas of attention, concentration, memory, and judgment in 81 percent of the players. The authors speculated that this finding could be indicative of permanent organic brain damage resulting from repeated traumas from heading the ball. In another study involving 53 active professional soccer players, impairments in memory, planning, and visuo-perceptual tasks were observed and compared with those in non-contact-sport athlete controls.”

2 | Encourage language cultivation

Teaching young children to be fluent in two or more languages could be helpful in the long run towards making them less vulnerable to Alzheimer’s. A teenage girl who is a superior writer is eight times more likely to escape Alzheimer’s later in life than a teen with poor linguistic skills.

Recent brain research shows that bilingual people’s brains function better and for longer after developing the disease. It doesn’t necessarily help prevent the disease, but, according to Psychologist Ellen Bialystok from York University in Toronto, “It allows those who develop Alzheimer’s to deal with it better.”

3 | Make college non-negotiable

An exercised mind is prepared for battle against Alzheimer’s. Education can help deter the onset and advancement of the disease. A recent University of Cambridge study involving 872 brains surmised that for each year of education, one’s risk of dementia drops by 11 percent. Therefore, one can conclude that the more years of formal schooling a child seeks out, the lower the odds they face in battling Alzheimer’s later on in life. High school dropouts are at high risk for Alzheimer’s and should be encouraged to stay in school for many reasons. Now we know that dementia prevention is one of them.   

4 | Provide stimulation to develop their cognitive reserve

Keep your child’s brain busy with a variety of activities and experiences to help them develop a cognitive reserve. Expose them to physical, mental, and social challenges as all of these things contribute to a stronger, higher functioning brain that can process data and memory retrieval faster and with more efficiency. This cognitive reserve is an accumulation of life experiences – education, marriage, socializing, a stimulating job, language skills, having a purpose in life, physical activity, and mentally demanding leisure activities – all make your brain better able to tolerate plaques and tangles

5 | Serve your kids healthy food

According to Vanderbilt University research, your kid’s diet should be high in antioxidants. Fruits such as berries and raisins, along with veggies like broccoli and spinach are good options. In one study, a glass of fruit or vegetable juice reduced the odds of Alzheimer’s by 76 percent when consumed three times per week or more. Grape and apple, usually the more child-friendly choices, are especially helpful in protecting the brain. 

Additionally, foods full of omega-3 fats, like fish, are good options

Make sure to avoid supplying sugary soft drinks, especially those sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Research has shown that they reduce intelligence in lab animals. Dr. Scott Kanoski from the University of Southern California, says:

“It’s no secret that refined carbohydrates, particularly when consumed in soft drinks and other beverages, can lead to metabolic disturbances. However, our findings reveal that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks is also interfering with our brain’s ability to function normally and remember critical information about our environment, at least when consumed in excess before adulthood.”

From potty-training to protecting children from bullies to preparing them for life’s challenges, there is likely very little you wouldn’t do for your child. These simple things you do every day might cut your child’s odds of losing their mind to Alzheimer’s later in life. Now is the time to take steps to prevent that from happening.