Written by: Stacey Hand
We all want healthy bodies, and perhaps even more we want healthy brains. Unfortunately, there is no pill that a doctor can prescribe to keep our brains at peak performance but there is real hope if we focus on where some of the most exciting Alzheimer’s disease successes in research have been achieved…PREVENTION!
There is substantial clinical evidence from studies and trials around the globe (some of it being done right here in northwest Louisiana by the LSU-Ochsner Center for Brain Health) that demonstrate how much control each of us can have over the well-being and function of our brains as we age. If each of us commits to adapting our lives in ways both small and large, we can have a significant impact on whether the symptoms of cognitive decline ever emerge during our lifetimes.
Here are some ways that each of us can protect our brains:
- We can eat a Mediterranean diet. The particulars of this way of eating are readily found in books, articles and on the internet, but for our purposes what we can focus on is eating fewer processed foods, fewer animal products and lots more fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Try Meatless Mondays (or as many days a week as you want!), substituting fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, or eggplant for the meat in your spaghetti sauce. Be creative and find lots of ways to fix delicious meals with little or no meat and read the ingredients on everything you buy. The fewer ingredients the better…if you don’t know what it is, don’t put it in your body!
- Move more every day. You don’t have to become a jogger or go to the gym or buy special clothes—though you certainly can if you want to. Add 11 minutes of movement to each day and you will have started an honest-to-goodness brain protection program. Chair exercises, a stroll around the block, even housework and gardening count. Just make a point to sit less and move more.
- Don’t give up in the battle for a good night’s sleep. Shoot for 7 hours per night, screens off at least one hour before bed. When you’re sleeping, your brain is busy cleaning out the damaging amyloid plaques that build up throughout the day. Give it plenty of time to get the job done! If you need pointers on good sleep hygiene there are lots of sources of information but start with turning off your screens at least an hour before bed, limiting liquid after supper, reading something calming before turning out the light and making sure your bedroom is cool and very dark.
- See your dentist regularly. Keep your teeth clean and your gums infection free. Bacteria from infected gum tissue are being found in the brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease. That means you must floss…daily, please…and have your teeth professionally cleaned twice yearly. Your dental hygienist can do many things that you cannot to keep your teeth and gums problem free. We don’t know all the details yet on how oral health is connected to brain health, but researchers are confident that there’s a link.
- Prevent or manage any chronic health issues that are part of your life. Take your medicine and follow doctors’ directions to keep the consequences of heart disease, COPD, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses from causing trouble for your brain. Persons with co-morbidities have a greater likelihood of suffering cognitive decline.
- Keep your life interesting. Continue to engage with lots of different people, staying open to the opportunities to make new acquaintances and try new things. Keep learning. Music does more than soothe the savage beast…it protects our brains as well. Enjoy music in all its forms; listen to lots of different genres, move to music (two birds with one stone!), and play or learn to play an instrument or two. Too late, you say? Not at all when you consider that learning to play a musical instrument has been recognized as one of the top tier ways of keeping our brains sharp.
- And finally, for this article we challenge you to find ways to reduce your stress. Lots of the actions we’ve already suggested will help but be aware of what your usual stress reducers are and focus on those that are positive such as, taking a walk, listening to (or making) music, cooking, gardening, reading, praying, visiting with good friends, or anything else that you find calming or that makes you happy. Let go of things that are causing you stress if possible and develop a bedtime or sleep routine that helps prevent ruminating in the night. A pad by the bed to jot things to remember can help with things that slipped your mind during the day.
Stay tuned for more information on brain health and if you would like some individual coaching or need education or advice on Alzheimer’s or dementia in your world, call us at The Bridge Alzheimer’s and Dementia Resource Center at 318-656-4800. Our vision is to create a community in Northwest Louisiana where no one affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia makes the journey alone.
Stacey Hand is the Dementia Educator at The Bridge Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center in Shreveport. She has a master’s degree in Gerontology, and she is a Certified Validation Teacher for the international Validation Training Institute. She has worked in independent senior living and long-term care over the past decade and cared for her mother-in-law and mother, who were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Stacey will be one of the speakers at The Bridge’s Second Annual Conference on Alzheimer’s & Dementia on Friday, November 4. Her topic is: “Behavior is Just an Expression of an Unmet Need”