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Prioritize brain health: Expert tips to lower Alzheimer’s risk and boost cognitive function

Posted in: Education General Health & Wellness

Prioritizing brain health is important at any age, but especially as we get older. Many modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, poor diet, and obesity are increasingly more common as we age. While controlling them at any age is important, it’s especially so in the years when dementia becomes more common. Additionally, the adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it” begins to hit close to home as we approach retirement years. After retirement, the decrease in mental workload and social interaction can potentially contribute to cognitive decline. One study shows that early retirement can even increase risk for cognitive decline, although it’s likely because of these factors.

Working on modifiable risk factors as early and as intensely as possible is by far, the best thing you can do for your brain. Don’t wait for the onset of cognitive problems to start making changes because by then, it is too late. Some healthy strategies that may help include:

  1. Start a healthy diet. Diets high in foods containing Omega 3 such as fish, may reduce the risk for dementia. That same benefit doesn’t seem to come from taking supplements, though. Start with increasing fish in the diet and gradually add in other aspects of the Mediterranean diet. This can not only lower risk for dementia but also lower risk for heart disease and stroke. 
  2. Start exercising or exercise more. Getting in physical activity which raises your heart rate for at least 30 minutes several days a week is a great habit to get into. If you can get that up to 5 days or more on a weekly basis and continue this year after year you can see a reduction in risk for dementia. 
  3. Prioritize sleep. A lack of quality sleep can not only leave you feeling tired the next day but can also increase the risk for dementia. Working on getting at least 6 hours of good sleep on a nightly basis can be helpful. People should also avoid certain sleep medications such as ones containing diphenhydramine which can worsen memory and affect sleep quality.  Additionally, if there’s an untreated sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, that should be taken care of and treated adequately. This can also reduce the risk for dementia.
  4. Monitor and control blood pressure. If you or your doctor have been noticing occasional high blood pressure readings, take it seriously. High blood pressure left untreated places people at a much higher risk for several health issues including stroke and dementia. In many cases, it’s easily controlled with lifestyle changes or medication so there’s really no reason not to. 

Related: 10 ways to reduce your risk of dementia

Of the outdated or inaccurate information that’s out there, probably some of the most problematic is the promotion of brain boosting or protecting supplements. There have been several fads through the year such as gingko biloba, ginseng, vitamin E, as well as many branded products but none of them have any rigorous or convincing scientific proof that they provide any benefit. Not only are people roped into spending money on products with little to no benefit, but they’re also unfortunately investing in false hope which can be damaging in its own way.

It can be difficult to know when to get professional help for yourself or a loved one when it comes to brain health. Many times, the early symptoms of a serious issue may seem minor, such as forgetting an appointment or mixing up bill payments. If there are concerns, it’s always advisable to run through the common things that affect brain health such as poor sleep, poor diet, stress/mood with your health professional to see if any of these might be contributing. If not, it could be worthwhile having further testing done to see if there is a major developing problem. If nothing else, a health professional can help guide people through some of the above options to maximize brain health. As more treatments come to market over the next decade, there will be more and more options for treatment and those options should be taken advantage of as early as possible. 

By Jordan Taylor, DO

Dr. Jordan Taylor