Many people are concerned about developing dementia as they age, but according to the World Health Organization, “dementia is not a normal part of aging.” While most seniors do experience some level of memory loss or other cognitive declines, there are steps seniors can take to minimize it and even lower the risk of dementia.
Take these steps now toward better brain health:
Address overall health risks:
The brain is just one organ but one that depends upon others to stay fit and healthy. Although there are diseases and conditions that can affect the brain of even healthy seniors, paying attention to total health can pay enormous dividends.
For example, heart disease, a leading killer worldwide, is also directly linked to brain health. So, managing blood pressure and/or diabetes, eating heart-healthy foods, avoiding alcohol, and quitting smoking not only reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, but also that of dementia. Learn more about heart disease and dementia in the National Institutes of Health article, “Risk factors for heart disease linked to dementia.”
Exercise your body:
Just as overall health impacts the brain, so too does physical exercise. The more blood that the heart pumps to the brain, the more oxygen the brain receives and the better it is able to function. But there are more good things exercise does for the brain including:
- Increasing the level of proteins that help nourish brain cells.
- Releasing mood-elevating endorphins and dopamine.
- Reducing stress hormone levels.
- Improving cognitive function including memory.
- Lowering the risk of dementia.
These benefits have been seen repeatedly in several research studies discussed in the Cleveland Clinic article, “Why Exercise Protects Your Brain’s Health (and What Kind Is Best),” including one that found that “each hour of light-intensity physical activity and achieving 7,500 steps or more daily was associated with higher total brain volume.”
Get to sleep:
A poor night’s sleep is something everyone experiences once in a while, thanks to illness, stress or other outside influences. But as we age, getting a good night’s sleep is especially important for maintaining a healthy brain.
First and foremost, sleep allows the brain to recharge via complex processes within several parts of the brain. The two types of sleep — REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM — occur during different stages of sleep and regulate brain wave activity, body temperature, depth of sleep, and even blood pressure and memory consolidation. Both types of sleep are necessary to awaken refreshed and to help keep the brain working its best. But for seniors, a good night’s sleep can become elusive.
Although there are many factors that can influence how well a senior sleeps, one of the most common is the disruption of circadian rhythm that regulates the sleep-wake cycle of life. Since light is essential to this cycle staying on track, seniors who do not get enough daylight every day may be especially impacted by poor sleep. Other contributing factors can include medications, incontinence and the frequent need to go to the bathroom, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and REM sleep behavior disorder. To better understand sleep and how to improve it, the Sleep Foundation’s article, “Aging and Sleep,” is a great resource.
Eat the right foods:
Eating right is absolutely essential to good physical and mental health, and according to the Mayo Clinic, research now shows, “Eating certain foods (and avoiding others) has been shown to slow brain aging by 7.5 years, and lessen the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”
Research has also provided the best way to get the right foods through the MIND diet, a combination of the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. When followed, the MIND diet can help lower blood pressure and reduce risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease, as well as reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. For more on the MIND diet, the healthline.com article “The MIND Diet: A Detailed Guide for Beginners” explains everything to get started toward better brain health.
Take on mental challenges:
The old saying, “Use it or lose it” is particularly applicable to the brain. So even in retirement, seniors should remember to keep challenging themselves to think, learn and engage to keep their minds sharp and healthy. There are many, many ways to accomplish these goals including:
- Taking classes or workshops.
- Playing games online or with friends (e.g., cards, board games, horseshoes, etc.)
- Learning a new craft or hobby.
- Joining a social group or club.
Everything a senior does to improve their health and well-being will be a step toward a healthier brain and better life. The Cleveland Clinic has developed the Six Pillars of Brain Health to encourage everyone to take better care of their brain. The program even includes an app for Apple and android devices for a free brain checkup!
At North Chandler Place, helping our residents maintain and improve brain health is an ongoing priority. Give yourself the tools you need to focus on what’s most important when a loved one is diagnosed with Dementia: download our Memory Care Guide. To find out what we have to offer in amenities and housing options, contact us today.