Preventing “Brain Drain”
Now that the(supposedly) relaxed pace of summer has come to a close, and everyone is getting geared up for returning to classes, work, and volunteer activities, we\’ve reached the time of year when our brains are at risk for system overload. You know what this means – more stress on our already fragile memories. And since memory of recent events is affected before memory of long past events, our daily activities can be immediately impacted by this forgetfulness.
Every time I forget a name or a password, I worry that I could be literally losing my mind. The fear of dementia is never too far away from most of our thoughts as we age and start forgetting things. For most, it has nothing to do with dementia at all. As we get older our lives become more complicated, and as I like to put it, our brains are just full! Stress can certainly cause forgetfulness. Of course, medical illnesses, such as thyroid disease or depression, and medications can also affect our memories. If you\’re concerned about a recent loss of memory, you should see your health care professional.
In the meantime, there are a lot of things you can do to help keep your brain healthy. The key is to maximize brain power. Here are some tips:
1) Exercising your body is key. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise every day will improve blood flow to the brain and can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer\’s disease by 30 to 50%.
2) Eating a “heart healthy” diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and healthy protein is essential. It is also important to eat plenty of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which include oily fish such as salmon, sardines and herring. Other foods rich in Omega -3\’s are walnuts, fortified eggs, and freshly ground flax seeds.
3) Reducing and controlling other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity, can also improve blood flow to the brain and keep it healthy. These all sound familiar, right? They should, because they are all tips to keep your heart healthy as well.
4) Exercising your brain is as important as exercising your body. You\’ve heard the term, “use it or lose it”, right? Well, that definitely applies to the brain. There are many ways to keep the mind active. Card games and word and number puzzles are good. Learning how to use a computer, or if you already know how, learning a new operating system can also be beneficial. Probably one of the best brain exercises is to learn a new language. Don\’t be intimidated by this: you don\’t have to become fluent. It is the attempt to learn the language, or the actual “work” of trying to learn something new, that gives your brain the benefits. In other words, it is the ability to focus and pay attention that is important, or “exercising” your brain.
5) For many years estrogen was thought to help brain function. The recent Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) study has called that into question. In that study, those in the HRT group had an increased risk of dementia. Clearly, more studies are needed to find out if estrogen replacement protects the brain or not.
6) Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood, a toxic amino acid, have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer\’s dementia. Supplements with folate, vitamins B6 and B12, help to lower the levels of homocysteine. However, whether homocysteine itself causes dementia has not been definitively proven in research studies. Homocysteine may be a marker, or a consequence, of an underlying process that causes dementia, rather than the cause of the problem itself. So, the jury is still out on whether the B vitamins can help prevent dementia.
There are many things that can cause dementia. Some of them are easily treated. Others, such as Alzheimer\’s disease, have no cure, but the progression can be slowed down by some medications. There are also new medications and possible vaccines in the works.
Again, if you are concerned that you or a loved one might be suffering from memory problems — more than the usual “can\’t find my keys” — don\’t just sit and worry about the forgetfulness. The stress of worrying will make the forgetfulness worse. It is really important to see a medical professional for a simple physical examination and blood work.
For more information, you can call the Alzheimer\’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center 1-800-438-4380 or the Alzheimer\’s Association 800.272.3900. Or you can contact their websites: ADEAR at www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers The Alzheimer\’s Association at http://www.alz.org.
Janet and I wish you a MEMORABLE September!