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Staying Ahead of the Game – Keeping the Brain Healthy

senior woman running a marathon

Starting at age 65 years old the risk of developing dementia doubles every five years. By age 85 years, between 25 and 50 percent of people will exhibit signs of dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia symptoms include a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other cognitive skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and is a progressive degenerative disease that damages and destroys the brain’s nerve cells.

Unfortunately, as of yet, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or its debilitating symptoms. In a small percentage of the population affected by the disease, some cognitive enhancing medications such as Donepezil and Galantamine may slow down the progression of the disease for a short amount of time. However, the efficacy is uneven and frequently there are side effects. 

Dementia research is still in its infancy. One of its focuses is on trying to identify at-risk individuals who may have a higher incidence of developing the disease. The hope is that treating them proactively even before they develop symptoms may help disrupt the disease process before it destroys brain cells. Researchers are focusing on those with a family history of early Alzheimer’s and those carrying the APOE 4 geneotype.

So what else can be done to slow or halt the development of dementia symptoms? Can we be proactive as aging adults to stay ahead of the game? It turns out that what is good for the physical body and the human psyche is also good for the brain. Here are some tips to maintain brain health and improve overall well-being:

Break a Sweat: Studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline – exercise regularly at least four times a week.

Hit the Books: Formal or informal education in any stage of life helps reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Take a class at a local college or community center. Join a book club.

Butt Out: Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Heads up: Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia – so be smart and wear a seatbelt, helmet and avoid falls.

Follow your Heart: Studies shows that reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes is likely to positively impact your brain health.

Fuel Up Right: Eat a healthy and balanced diet to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline – think Mediterranean Diet.

Catch your Zzz’s: Aim for at least eight hours a day – not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.

Manage Stress: Meditate and do 10 minutes of mindful exercises daily – there are free apps on your smartphone to guide you; seek early treatment for depression/anxiety.

Get Social: Work on maintaining friendships and find ways to be part of your local community – give back to others through volunteer work.

Stump Yourself: Challenging your mind may have both short and long-term benefits for your brain. Think puzzles, games, writing, art, or building something.

Age Your Way: Discuss your goals of care with your family or advocate while your memory is sharp. Prepare and share your advanced health care and financial directives. Have an aging plan in place so your choices are respected and fulfilled.

Much of the information in this article came from the Alzheimer’s Association: www.alz.org/nyc/.