Critter Corner: Keeping Your Brain Healthy

Dear Magic,

I have read that early-onset dementia has become a lot more prevalent. I am concerned because I am 52 and very forgetful. I know there is no known way to prevent dementia from happening, if it’s going to happen. But what are some things I can do to keep my brain healthy for as long as possible?

Thanks for your help!

Bray Nealth

Dear Bray,

Many of us often feel like we could be losing our memory. Whether we forget to pay a bill or can’t find the words to say in a conversation, we are concerned why these things are happening. In many cases, it could be lack of sleep or just a normal sign of aging. But in some cases, it is not. Please see today’s newsletter for more clarification on this topic.

As you mentioned, early-onset dementia has become more prevalent, according to a study for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation (as you will see in the newsletter article referenced above).  If you continue to see changes in your memory and other thinking skills over time, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms further.

Things You Can Do to Maintain Your Memory and Mental Skills

Although there is no proven way to stave off dementia completely, there are some things that you can do to maintain your memory and mental skills. Research published by the National Institute of Health focuses on cognitive health and what you can do to help maintain it. The following steps can help you function every day and stay independent—and they have been linked to cognitive health, too:

Take Care of Your Physical Health: Make sure you are taking care of yourself and not neglecting your health. Get recommended health screenings; manage chronic health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and high cholesterol); limit use of alcohol; quit smoking, if you smoke; and get enough sleep (generally 7-8 hours each night).
Eat Healthy Foods: A healthy diet can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes. It may also help keep your brain healthy. A healthy diet generally consists of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats, fish, and poultry. Be sure to control portion sizes and drink enough water.
Be Physically Active: Being physically active—through regular exercise, household chores, or other activities—has many benefits. It can help you keep and improve your strength; give you more energy; prevent or delay heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases; and reduce depression. Studies link ongoing physical activity with benefits for the brain, too. In fact, exercise has been shown to increase the size of a brain structure important to memory and learning, thus improving spatial memory.
Keep Your Mind Active: People who engage in meaningful activities, such as volunteering or hobbies, say they feel happier and healthier. Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability, too. For example, read books and magazines. Play games. Take or teach a class. Learn a new skill or hobby. Work or volunteer. Scientists think that such activities may protect the brain by establishing “cognitive reserve.” They may help the brain become more adaptable in some mental functions, so it can compensate for age–related brain changes and health conditions that affect the brain.
Stay Connected with Social Activities: Connecting with other people through social activities and community programs can keep your brain active and help you feel less isolated and more engaged with the world around you. Participating in social activities may lower the risk for some health problems and improve well-being. So, when you feel it is safe to do so, visit with family and friends. Join programs through your Area Agency on Aging, senior center, or other community organizations.

We don’t know for sure yet if any of these actions can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease and age–related cognitive decline. But some of them have been associated with reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.

For More Information About Cognitive Health, visit NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center website at www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers.

Hop this is helpful,

Magic

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