The Basics of Protecting Our Brain from Dementia
There is a common myth that once someone is diagnosed with dementia, well, it’s very much a death sentence, perhaps a tortuously long-time coming.
But research is starting to reveal that there are ways to delay its onset and hold it at bay once it is diagnosed. Lucy Andrews, a guest on my Caregiver Smile Summit, was happy to dissect that for us.
Lucy Andrews, DNP, RN, MS, is Founder and CEO of At Your Service Nursing & Home Care. She conducted her doctoral work on the global dementia crisis, aging, and prevention strategies for healthy living.
She developed a dementia and Alzheimer’s disease plan for aging patients leaving the hospital setting or entering long-term care or home health and hospice.
Change Your Lifestyle
“The reality is that about 40 percent of the risk associated with this disease is attributed to the lifestyle choices that we make. Yes, genetics, age and even gender play a part and make a difference, but we can actually learn how to protect our own brains and change the rest of our future,” says Lucy.
There are many things that influence the health of our brain. Nutrition, our physical activity, and how stimulated we keep our brain all impact the onset. The brain is an organ like every other and the best way we can keep it healthy is to use it.
Basic Lifestyle Changes We Need to Make
Here are five things that can make a difference.
Exercise enhances the chemicals that are in the brain. The Alzheimer’s Society refers to aerobic exercise performed over 20–30 minutes, several times a week and maintained for at least a year. It could mean a brisk walk, cleaning the house or gardening, cooking and washing up.
The Society notes that in one study: “716 people with an average age of 82 years, people who were in the bottom 10 per cent in terms of amount of daily physical activity, were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those in the top 10 per cent.”
Manage Your Vascular Health
Vascular dementia describes a decline in cognitive abilities resulting when blood flow is reduced to any region of the brain. The brain becomes damaged quickly and recovers slowly. These factors can influence it:
- high blood pressure
- hardening of the arteries
- sleep apnea
- high cholesterol
- atrial fibrillation
- physical inactivity, and
- poor diet.
For example, when you look at diabetes, excess sugar impairs both cognitive skills and self-control.
Manage Your Diet
Lucy mentions that our diet influences the risk factors above. She recommends a combination of a Mediterranean with the DASH Diet.
The Mediterranean diet includes high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, certain fruits and vegetables, fish, cheese and yogurt, moderate wine consumption, and low consumption of meat.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure without medication. It encourages the reduction of sodium in the diet and eating foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Sleep Is Crazy Important
We often ignore our sleep patterns, yet sleep allows our brain to revitalize itself. Sleep is a complicated issue. The research is unclear on its relation to dementia. It is also unclear how sleeping pills impact the onset of dementia.
There is a clearer indication of the hazards of sleep apnea, and I have many friends on CPAP machines who sleep like babies. It is probably best to consult your physician and go to a reputable site like the National Sleep Foundation.
This is a personal struggle for me, particularly because I have reflux. What my doctor stressed had to do with having a sleep routine – getting up and going to bed the same time each day. He also stressed that we need to give our body three to four hours to digest the last thing we ate before going to bed.
Don’t exercise too close to bedtime and too soon after eating. And increasingly important, do not bring your phone to bed with you! Also, I have started using my smart speaker to play white noise at night, which seems to help me.
One of the big topics covered in my speech, The Meaning of Life, is the importance of socialization. Even home-bound people can have access to socialization through social media, Zoom, Skype, Facetime and more. That’s the good part about technology.
Nothing, however, replaces direct human interaction. And socialization has documented health benefits. The American Journal of Psychiatric Health reports that social support helps protect against dementia.
The Journal of Pain adds that social support reduces pain and depression. A recent New York Times article showed that maintaining social activity despite health-related challenges help lessen the decline in well-being that some people experience in later life.
Lucy concluded that when you exercise and follow good nutrition, it will probably help bring about the other benefits.
When you exercise, you improve your health. When you are in better shape, you can get out and exercise and participate in society, and that can help with social engagement. Likewise, that contributes to better sleep. It all works together.
What are some of the things you are doing to ward off dementia or keep it from progressing? Where have you seen the most benefit? Do you think that taking care of your brain can help you fight dementia? Please share in the comments below.