By Dr. Nora DeVoe, Ph.D.
Geriatric Care Manager


Brain Health Boosters

Research continues for improved methods of identifying interventions that can delay or halt the progression of dementia, which affects over 5 million Americans. But, in the meantime, it is vital to do all you can to preserve your cognition. Some Alzheimer's disease (AD) risk factors such as old age, a family history of dementia, and carrying certain genes are unavoidable. However, you may be able to mitigate other factors with lifestyle and behavior changes.

The following are several very important factors to consider that are basic and easy to implement in a lifestyle change that may enable preserving and boosting your brainpower.

Poor sleep has been linked to depression, obesity, and cardiovascular issues like high blood pressure. Unfortunately, many older individuals do not sleep well due to discomfort of arthritis or some drugs that affect sleep and/or increase nightime urination. Another common problem in older people is sleep apnea, which causes your airway to close up while you sleep, resulting in brief interruptions to your breathing. Some recent studies link sleep apnea to an increased risk of developing AD in older age. So getting better sleep could make a difference. Check with your doctor if you think you have sleep apnea or insomnia.

As we have discussed many times, diet is very important in fending off dementia. The MIND diet has a 35% lower risk for cognitive decline as we age. Those who follow the diet have reduced their risks of AD by as much as 35%. The MIND diet, as you remember, is a hybrid of the heart-healthy Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. All three eating plans prioritize fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, poultry, nuts, and olive oil, while red meat, refined grains, and salt are limited.

Being overweight or obese may raise your risk for AD because both are associated with a greater risk for high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which, in turn, are linked to a greater risk for dementia. Research also suggests that seniors who exercise regularly may retain a higher level of mental function compared to seniors who take little or no exercise, and that exercise may also benefit those who already have dementia, because exercise boosts blood flow to the brain.

Smokers have a greater risk of developing dementia than non-smokers, and the more a person smokes, the greater the risk. Exposure to secondhand smoke may also increase the risk of dementia. Smoking damages blood vessels and, like obesity, increases the risk of high blood pressure.

AD is also less common among people who flex their brain by doing mentally stimulating activities. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, board games such as chess, and cards are all mentally stimulating.

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, stay compliant with any medications you have been prescribed to treat those issues. Get help for depression. Several studies have linked late-life depression and a greater risk of AD. Late-life depression affects about 15% of older adults. It may be a relapse of earlier depression or new onset depression due to grief after loss, chronic illness, medication side effects, or hospitalization. Depression increases stress hormones that may harm the brain, but it may also be possible that depression raises the risk for cognitive decline because depressed people are more likely to be socially isolated, eat a poor diet, drink too much, smoke, and avoid exercise.

Staying social and maintaining an active social life as we age are more likely to help us maintain cognitive function. While there is no clear biological reason for this, it is possible that the discourse and thought involved in social engagement, along with the increased activity, could be factors in boosting our brainpower. The above lifestyle factors are definitely brain boosters and are easily adaptable in our daily lives. Start and commit to a few at a time and you will be at the positive end of cognitive health.

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Nora DeVoe is a Gerontologist specializing in Eldercare and Caregiver issues. She may be reached at (716) 667-7299.  

Dr. Nora is a ....