Brain health is something most people tend to take for granted. When brains are functioning as they should, the average person does not think about ways to improve or avoid harming our brains. Yet, when a problem with cognitive skills or memory develops, many wish they had known more about brain health techniques.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2019, there were an estimated 5.6 million Americans—age 65 and older—living with dementia. Although dementia (an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of compromised cognition) primarily affects older adults, it should not be thought of as a normal part of aging. While age-related declines are inevitable, they are usually subtle in development and slow to progress. Dementia, which has a variety of causes, including Alzheimer’s disease, is more severe in its presentation, and quicker to progress.
Here are a few examples of how dementia might present in you or an aging loved one:
- Dramatic changes in short term memory
- Inability to remember basic words when speaking
- Confusing unrelated words, such as “hat” and “car”
- Struggling to follow directions or recipes
- Sudden, intense mood swings
- Acts of “mindlessness,” such as putting car keys in the refrigerator
- Consistently asking a question that has already been asked
- Getting lost when in an area should be familiar
While these behaviors do not confirm the presence of dementia, one or more of these symptoms should motivate a person to visit their doctor or neurologist. Getting a professional diagnosis is wise for many reasons. Lack of a diagnosis equates to a lack of treatment—and dementia can be treated or slowed. If a disease like Alzheimer’s is the cause, the earlier diagnosis and treatment can begin, the better the long-term result will likely be.
Some root causes of dementia are temporary or reversible, including:
- Medications. Various drug combinations can cause cognitive impairment.
- Minor head trauma or injury. A head injury from a fall or accident—even without a loss of consciousness—can cause short- or long-term memory complications.
- Emotional disorders. Stress, anxiety, and/or depression can trigger forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and similar problems that disrupt daily activities.
- Alcoholism. Chronic alcoholism can seriously impair mental abilities. Alcohol can also cause memory loss by interacting with medications. Reducing the amount one drinks or quitting altogether can help dramatically.
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Vitamin B-12 helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. A vitamin B-12 deficiency—not uncommon in older adults—can cause memory problems.
It is important to remember that normal, age-related memory loss should never keep you or your loved one from living a life that is engaging and productive. Vigilance is the price of good brain health, so try to be aware of changes that may be causes for concern.
And while science has yet to provide guaranteed ways to prevent dementia, there is much that can be done today that will improve the odds of having a healthy brain tomorrow. It is worth noting that following these broad recommendations will benefit a person’s overall health, regardless of how they might impact memory or dementia.
Increase the frequency and intensity of social interactions. Being around friends is one of the most important ways a person can maintain quality brain health. Proactively plan for ways you or a loved one can increase social interactions.
Get more and better sleep. Sleep is a time for the body to rest; it is not a time for the brain to rest. Sleep is when the brain works vigorously to sort, store, and learn the information that has been taken in during waking hours. The duration and quality of sleep one gets is strongly tied to brain health. Do not shortchange your brain; strive for quality sleep every night.
Make your goal a busy and active mind. Playing card games, reading, solving puzzles, and doing fun memory training can all help delay the onset and intensity of dementia.
Maintain a healthy diet. Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, seafood, Omega-3’s, whole grains, and legumes into one’s diet can reduce inflammation and in turn, enhance brain health.
Get physically active. Physical activity is beneficial to your brain. Move more and more often. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise each and every week.
Stop smoking. Smoking is likely to increase the risk of vascular conditions and dementia. Stop today.
Vitamins. Ensure that you or your loved one is getting enough B-12, vitamin D, and vitamin C. In numerous studies these supplements have been linked to preventing dementia.
Manage blood pressure risks. High blood pressure can lead to a higher risk of certain types of dementia. Ignoring this condition will not make it go away. Get treatment and counseling as soon as possible.
Treat mental health conditions. See your doctor for treatment if you or a loved one is experiencing depression or anxiety.
If you are interested in learning more about methods to positively impact your brain health, please reach out to AgeWell Cincinnati. The experts at AgeWell Cincinnati can connect you to 62 services and 7 categories—through 1 number: 513-766-3333