September is World Alzheimer's Month so, it makes sense to talk about a healthy brain.
The brain is one of our body's largest and most complex organs. It controls everything from breathing, digesting to conversing, playing, understanding and strategizing. The brain controls your body's everyday functions and allows you to interact with the world around you. Though kept in the dark and hidden by your skull, the brain needs to be looked after and exercised regularly, just like the rest of your body.
We know we should take care of it, but it doesn't get nearly the notoriety as a healthy heart.
Over 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer's or another dementia. Worldwide, at least 44 million people live with dementia—more than the total population of Canada. We see Alzheimer's and dementia also starting to affect people at much younger ages, thus making the disease a global health crisis and one that we need to take more seriously when it comes to preventative measures.
It's never too early to start taking care of your brain; whether you are in your 20'sm 30's 60's or 70's make it a priority today.
The causes of Alzheimer's and dementia have been attributed to a combination of age-related changes in the brain, genetics, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Dementia develops when there are so many risk factors for the disease that they overwhelm the brain's ability to maintain and repair itself. While there are some risk factors you cannot control, such as age and genetics, reducing the effects of risk factors that can be controlled, such as lifestyle factors, can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia.
The decisions and choices we make in our lives today will directly affect our minds and cognitive functions in the future. What can we do?
Be physically active
People who exercise regularly are less likely to develop heart disease, stroke and diabetes, all risks associated with dementia. A protein called tau helps keep the structure of the cells in your brain stable. Higher levels of it are linked to Alzheimer's and dementia. A study at Wake Forest University showed that aerobic exercise -- the kind that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe faster -- could lower your levels of tau. Physical activity also pumps blood to the brain, nourishing the cells with nutrients and oxygen and encouraging new cell growth.
Be socially active
Research has found a strong connection between loneliness and impaired cognitive function. Patients with dementia are often pessimistic about their future and tend to feel lonely owing to social isolation. Regularly interacting with others may help lessen your risk of developing dementia.
Challenge your brain
Just as physical activity improves your body's ability to function, studies show that exercising your brain can help reduce your risk of dementia. By approaching daily routines in new ways, you engage new or rarely-used mental pathways. The more "new" experiences you give your brain, the better. When something starts feeling "comfortable," it is time to switch it up and try a new way.
You could start with something as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Take a different route home from work each day. Learn something new, such as a second language or a musical instrument. Do crosswords, Soduko or a variety of memory games. Read, write, or sign up for local adult education classes—Play board games with your kids or grandkids. Or get your friends together for a weekly game of cards. Mix it up by trying new games. The bonus of activities like these is the social connections mentioned above.
Follow a healthy diet.
We know that healthy eating can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Since these conditions are risk factors for dementia, we can also say that another benefit of a good diet is good brain health. Healthy dietary choices not only improve your general health, in the long-term nutritious food helps maintain brain function and fight cognitive decline. Reduce the amount of refined sugars, saturated fats and processed foods that you eat daily and weekly.
Experiencing stress is a part of everyday life. Still, when it persists over time, it can cause chronic inflammation, vascular changes and chemical imbalances that damage the brain and other cells in your body. Managing or lowering stress can improve brain health and reduce the risk of dementia.
At this time there is no pill that will improve your memory or boost your brain function. Reliable evidence that “memory” supplements actually work is lacking. These basic supplements are good for overall brain health but still, exercise and a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet will definitely support a healthy ageing brain.
- B-complex vitamins. Taking B vitamins—including vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12—throughout young adulthood has been linked with better brain function in midlife.
- Vitamin D. Blood tests show that people are commonly low on this vitamin, which may help prevent amyloid buildup in the brain.
- DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fat, is anti-inflammatory and may be particularly beneficial for the brain.
- Curcumin. The main active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, has anti-inflammatory actions and may help prevent amyloid buildup in the brain.
- Citicoline. This is a potent supplemental source of choline, which is needed to make acetylcholine, a brain messenger critical for memory.
For more information on Alzheimer's and Dementia visit https://alzheimer.ca/en or if caring for someone with Alzheimer's and dementia https://alzheimer.ca/en/help-support/im-caring-person-living-dementia