I make it a point to subscribe to online reports and newsletters and to check the Alzheimer’s Association's site, alz.org, to stay on top of what’s happening in all aspects of this field of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

As many know, the culprits that are doing the most damage to your brain, if you have Alzheimer’s disease, are "plaques" that attack your brain cells from the outside and “tangles” that attack them from within.  These plaques and tangles destroy neurons and continue to do so over time until they steal the life of their victim.

When I lecture to formal or informal caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, I’m always asked what we can do to avoid this insidious disease, and I wish I had the answer. What I do have are some ways you can help your brain and reduce your risk of cognitive decline. This information comes to you courtesy of The Alzheimer’s Association list of “10 Ways To Love Your Brain.”

Your brain, like your heart, is a vascular organ, so it makes perfect sense to understand that what you’re doing that’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. Of course, the opposite is true as well. It’s well known that a good healthy diet and exercise can go a long way to promoting better brain health. After all, good cardiovascular exercise will elevate your heart rate and increase the blood flow to your brain and body, but let’s look at some other ways to love your brain.

-Take a course. We’re never too old to learn, so taking a course in a subject that interests you can help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. You can do this through adult ed, at a local college or online.

- Quit Smoking. Smoking increases your risk of cognitive decline.

- Be Good to Your Heart. Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes have a negative impact on your cognitive health.

- Protect Your Head. A brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a helmet when appropriate, use your seat belts, and protect yourself from potential falls at home by removing items like carpet runners that “grab” toes.

- Watch Your Diet. Where have you heard that before? A healthy well balanced diet that’s low in fat and includes veggies and fruit can reduce your risk of cognitive decline. In fact, diets that can help you with your high blood pressure (the Mediterranean diet) can also contribute to risk reduction.

- Get Your Rest. Not getting enough shut-eye due to sleep apnea or other conditions could result in problems with memory and thinking.

- Remember Your Mental Health. Some studies have linked depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health concerns to cognitive decline. If that’s you, see your physician.

- Socialize. For years I have told families that socialization often can be more important than their medication. Join a club, volunteer, join a choir or just engage with friends and family regularly.

- Put Your Mind to Work. Play games, do puzzles, be artistic. Challenging your mind can have short and long-term benefits for your brain. What’s that they say? ...”if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”

I’d love to be able to tell you that by following this list of recommendations you’ll never have to worry about cognitive decline or dementia. Unfortunately, I have had everyone from judges and psychiatrists to contractors and store clerks as residents of my dedicated communities. After all, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are no respecters of persons. As we age, we can develop normal age-related memory loss, mild cognitive impairments and of course Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. More on that in a future article.

If you do follow this list of recommendations, you’re certainly improving your odds of keeping your brain sharp and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing for everyone.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Join the Journey.

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer’s care specialist. His website is at www.careforcaregivers.org.

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