Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Research tells us that there are some things we can do to keep our brains healthy. Check out these strategies to keep your brain healthy and happy.
June is National Alzheimer's and Brain health awareness month. Over 5 million people are living with Alzheimer's Disease (AD) in the United States and over 15,000 are acting as caregivers. The internet is full of advice and "cures". But AD is a complex condition with many contributing factors and all of the information on the internet can be confusing. The National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer's Association recommend following up with your doctor to find the best combination of treatments to prevent or delay cognitive decline. The good news is that research has found that keeping our brains healthy can reduce risk factors for AD.
See below for evidence-backed strategies to support your brain health.
Tip #1 - Stay Physically Active
While there is not enough evidence to say that exercise will prevent AD there is plenty of evidence that shows the positive impact of exercise on brain health. The National Institute on Aging performed a review of the research and found that those who exercise have a lower rate of cognitive decline than those who don't. It was also found that those who exercise have fewer plaques and tangles (associated with dementia) in the brain than those who don't. Overall, evidence suggests that while exercise can't be proven to prevent AD it can slow cognitive decline as well as many other overall health benefits that support your brain and physical health.
Tip #2 - Stay Socially Active
There are many scientifically proven health benefits to staying socially active. Having a good social support system and being active in your community can reduce depression, improve overall health and wellness, improve physical ability (strength, balance, and endurance), and can even reduce cognitive decline. There are many reasons older adults start to reduce social activities (difficulty with mobility, limited transportation, and health conditions). If you are finding it physically hard to maintain social activities consider other ways to stay socially connected (phone calls, email, social media, facetime, or online games that can be played with your friends). The local Area on Aging offers a variety of resources such as transportation, senior programming, and volunteer activities you can complete from home.
" Remaining socially active may support brain health and possibly delay the onset of dementia. " - alz.org
Please reach out to the local Area on Aging for additional information and resources at:
Occupational therapy can be a resource if you are struggling to engage in social activities like you used to. Feel free to call me at (314) 742-0330 to see if an occupational therapy assessment might help you navigate social/community/or virtual activities.
Tip #3 - Get Good Sleep
There is significant research that links poor sleep with decreased cognitive function. The good news is that - good sleep has been linked to improved cognitive function. Good sleep is not always easy to achieve, and many factors can make it hard to get a good night's sleep. If you are not getting quality sleep, you should consider following up with your primary physician. Common problems that can impair sleep include:
1. Urinary frequency 2. Medications
3. Caffeine and alcohol use 4. Stress
Sleep hygiene is a way of tuning up your routines and habits to improve your ability to go to sleep and stay asleep. Some common recommendations include:
Having and keeping a sleep-wake routine
Creating a calming environment
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or other liquid 2 hours before bed.
Dim lighting 1 hour before bed
Reduce screen time before bed
Avoid activities in bed other than sleep or intimacy (TV or working...)
Check out this site for more information on sleep hygiene:
"For people with sleep deprivation, insomnia, sleep apnea, or other conditions that prevent getting adequate rest, short-term daytime cognitive impairment is common. In addition, multiple studies have linked poor sleep with longer-term cognitive decline, including the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s dementia." - Erin Suni (The Sleep Foundation)
Tip #4 - Take up a Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is defined by the Webster Dictionary as "the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis".
The current research has found several benefits to mindfulness practice and meditation such as improved memory, attention, processing, and executive functioning as well as slowed cognitive decline (mindful.org). This is a big deal! Our world has become so busy and seems to reward multitasking and over productivity, but those habits have a negative impact on our brain health. The answer seems to be slowing down and developing an intentional lifestyle. It can be hard to know where to start, but a simple mindfulness practice can be simple and easy.
Dr. Amishi Jha is a neuroscientist who studies mindfulness. Check out this link for a short video that leads you through a short mindfulness exercise:
For additional information about medication and mindfulness check out this link:
Dr. Jha has authored several research articles on mindfulness and recently published a book Peak Mind: Find your focus, own your attention, invest 12 minutes a day as well as a guided workbook. Personally, I found her workbook very engaging, helpful, and informative. We live in a world where distractions are everywhere, and multi-tasking is expected. This book helps you find and hold your focus. I would highly recommend it to everyone. The workbook can be found on Amazon for $10.00.
What's next for possible treatment
Research is ongoing to find ways to prevent and delay AD and cognitive decline. Current research is looking at:
Blood pressure and lipid-lowering treatments
Combined physical and mental exercises
Check out this fact sheet from the National Institute on Aging for more information:
If you have ever had a loved one who experienced dementia or AD, you have witnessed how hard it can be. While there is not a "cure" yet, there are some actionable steps we can take to reduce our risk factors. Investing in these four strategies will help improve your overall health and wellness as well as reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
Let's not forget Father's Day June 19th. I want to take a minute to honor and say thank you to all the fathers and father figures out there.
I hope you all enjoy your day!
Local Spotlight: Pick up all your meat and grilling needs for a fabulous Father's Day at G&W Sausage and Meats- a St. Louis landmark. Click below for more information including products and recipes:
-Jenny Williams, OT