Following Four Rules Will Help Keep Your Brain Strong as You Age


06.16.2021

As we age, brain function loss becomes real for many people. Everyone at every age has some forgetful moments. You forget where you left your keys; you can’t remember an acquaintance’s name; you forget what you came into the room for. Added stress and distractions can also lead to forgetfulness.

“People worry about these as a sign of dementia,” says Palomar Health-affiliated General Neurologist Michael Delaney, M.D. “But it’s more your short-term memory loss; when you forget appointments, conversations and lose some of your executive functions.”

Executive functions are things we do every day like cook dinner, talk to family, balance our checkbooks. If you lose the desire to do these functions or make mistakes you don’t normally make, then you should be concerned and see your primary care physician who may administer a mini-mental state examination, which is a short cognitive function quiz. If you perform poorly on this test, you may be referred to a neurologist, like Dr. Delaney.

Family and friends are often the first to notice signs of dementia as patients may be in denial, have shame or be afraid they may lose their job. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which makes up about 60-70% of cases, and is identifiable in people who sometimes get lost in their own neighborhood, can’t recognize long-time friends but may remember events happening 50 years ago. A less common form is vascular dementia, which manifests itself similar to Parkinson’s in that patients have a slowness in processing. Worldwide about 50 million people have some form of dementia.

PREVENTION

Because there are no effective cures for dementia, prevention is the best medicine.

Dr. Delaney says everyone should start thinking about brain care as early as 35, and certainly no later than 55, the earlier the better. He tells all his patients to follow the four big pillars:
  • Physical exercise
  • Cognitive exercise
  • Social interaction
  • Diet and sleep

Regular physical exercise, 20-30 minutes per day, four-five days per week, is part of any recommendation to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Cognitive exercises can be as simple as reading every day and taking a moment to think about what you’ve read, Dr. Delaney says. Some people like to do word searches, crossword puzzles or mind games you play on the internet. Retroactive research shows people who are socially involved tend to do better than those who are more isolated. Anecdotally Dr. Delaney says he’s seen an uptick in dementia during the pandemic, especially for those in nursing homes who weren’t allowed visitors.

Last is diet and sleep. Dr. Delaney recommends eating what’s similar to a Mediterranean diet: “a lot of green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, seeds and olive oil – things that have a lot of omega fatty acids.” People who follow this type of diet tend to have lower rates of dementia. If people are starting to show early signs of dementia, he says he also recommends taking Vitamin C and D.

Sleep quality has also shown a correlation to healthy living as attention, concentration and mental function go down in people who don’t have normal, restful sleep. There are many tips for getting good sleep including avoiding big meals, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine before bed and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.

Eliminating the possibility you will get dementia is impossible but you can reduce or delay your chances by following the four big pillars. If you already believe you or someone you know has the onset of dementia, please encourage them to talk to their doctor. You can also make an appointment with one of our Palomar Health neurologists.

Photo caption: Participate in brain activities from a young age to slow the onset of dementia
 


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