Get your brain groove on
Reducing your risk of dementia may very well be in your head – literally. Although absolute prevention is still not possible, plenty of studies suggest that a fit brain is a powerful deterrent against age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. That’s important because a new Alzheimer Society study, Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society, reveals that the number of Canadians with dementia is set to soar. By 2038, someone will develop dementia every two minutes. Because the adverse changes in the brain can start years, even decades, before dementia appears, taking charge of your brain now could have huge pay offs down the road.
According to Dr. Jack Diamond, Scientific Director at the Society, brain health is vital not only for positive aging but also in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it’s doing crosswords or taking up a new hobby, any activity that fires up your neurons can help build a ‘reserve’ of brain cells. As we age and particularly in people with Alzheimer’s disease, these cell-to-cell connections in the brain begin to break down, and brain cells eventually die. A ‘reserve’ of brain cells can help compensate for this loss. This reserve can even help people who already have the disease by slowing down its progression. Dr. Diamond also explains that while we can’t yet stop or reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in people already affected, maintaining good brain health can boost the ability of medications to ease the symptoms of the disease.
For maximum effect, the Rising Tide study suggests combining mental fitness with a strong social network and regular physical exercise. Tango or salsa, anyone? Dancing is a great example of how these three elements work together: Learning new steps exercises your brain and keeps brain cells ‘talking’ to each other; dancing with a partner or a group of people keeps you socially connected; and dancing itself keeps your body tone and fit.
Living the healthy brain lifestyle – a no brainer
Taking preventative steps isn’t complicated, adds Dr. Diamond, and can be easily incorporated into your day-to-day routine. Try any or all of these tips. And remember, if you are concerned about your memory or that of a friend or family member, contact your local Alzheimer Society for practical advice, and be sure to see your family doctor.
• Eat more heart-healthy foods rich in antioxidants, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids such as berries, leafy greens and fish. Green tea and moderate amounts of wine and coffee also fuel the brain.
• Walk, swim, garden. Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes. Vary your routine frequently.
• Engage in at least two new challenging tasks each week.
• Reduce and manage your stress. Set aside time for yourself and indulge in your favourite activity.
• Have regular checks for blood pressure, diabetes, heart rate and cholesterol.
• Do at least one group activity a week. If you like to read, try starting a book club.
• Break your rut. Use your other hand to brush your hair or do the dishes. Check out a neighbourhood you’ve never been before. Doing things differently wakes up those brain cells that are less used.
• Give your problem-solving skills a workout with one of today’s many popular brain games.
• Make safety your first priority. Wear a helmet, drive safely, take any head injury seriously.
• Stay socially connected. Cherish friends and family, re-establish old friendships, or make new ones.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and prevention, visit www.alzheimer.ca