Whether you want to sharpen your memory or prevent cognitive decline, the following tips will help keep your brain healthy and functioning optimally:
- Challenge your brain. Work, read, do a crossword puzzle or solve Sudoku. Play bridge or mahjong with a group, or challenge a friend to a game of chess. If you are on your own, try digital puzzle games such as Two Dots or Bubble Game. You can also try memorizing key phone numbers instead of relying on your cell phone all the time.
- Get enough sleep! Sleep plays a vital role in brain function and helps you consolidate your memories. Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night, seek a healthcare practitioner who will address the cause and not just give you a quick fix. Sleeping pills can compromise cognitive function. Click here to read more on how to get a good night’s rest.
- Exercise regularly. According to Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of Harvard Health Letter, “exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.” According to a study done at the University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Interestingly, resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not yield the same results. “… Engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Regular exercise can reduce insulin resistance as well as inflammation, both of which have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Staying active also improves mood and sleep while reducing stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas commonly cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
- Invest in healthy relationships and stay connected. Look for opportunities to gather with loved ones and friends, especially if you live alone.
Loneliness is tied to an increased risk of developing dementia. In a recent study of 12,030 older adults, the researchers found that loneliness (how lonely one felt, rather than the amount of social contact with others) was associated with a 40% higher risk of developing dementia. A person can be surrounded by people and have many social contacts but still feel lonely.
- If you are experiencing memory loss, mental decline or cognitive impairment, find a healthcare practitioner who will work with you in addressing your concerns. According to Dr. Dale Bredesen, professor of neurology at University of California, Los Angeles, Alzheimer’s disease is a result of what happens when the brain tries to protect itself from inflammation (from infection, diet, stress, etc), a shortage or decline of supportive nutrients and hormones and/ or toxic substances such as metals or moulds. He suggests testing for insulin resistance, certain nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, heavy metal toxicity, food sensitivities/ intolerances and genetic status particularly for APO E4*, all of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Bredesen believes that by correcting and rebalancing these factors, the cognitive decline of early Alzheimer’s can be prevented and even reversed in some cases. Dr. Ardyce Yik offers such testing in her clinic.
*Genetics may affect your risk for Alzheimer’s disease but it doesn’t mean you will necessarily have the condition. Increasing evidence is showing that environmental and lifestyle factors (i.e. epigenetic changes) can affect whether that gene is turned “on” or “off”. You are in control of your own fate much more than you realize.
Bredesen, D. (2017) The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia. UK: Penguin Random House.