Brain-Healthy Habits for Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: Op-ed
This article, written by Chris Barstein, was published on June 23, 2019, by New Canaan News.
On June 21, the sun shone a little longer, which can be difficult for those with Alzheimer’s. Also known as The Longest Day, thousands of people across the world came together to fight the darkness of the disease and bring awareness. More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s and many others fear future cognitive decline. Although millions of dollars are being invested in research, Alzheimer’s still ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Fortunately, developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is not an inevitable consequence of aging. During Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, take steps toward a healthier life and follow these tips on how to preserve your brain health as you age.
Get moving — One of the most important things you can do for your brain is engaging in regular physical activity. Research has found that using your muscles may send more blood — rich in oxygen — to the region of your brain devoted to thought. In addition, exercise promotes the formation of new nerve cells in the brain, as well as connections between cells. Exercise also can help improve your cholesterol profile, lower your blood pressure and relieve stress.
Engage in brain-stimulating activities — Certain activities, those that stretch and stimulate your brain, may promote new connections among nerve cells and may assist in generating new cells that can protect against deterioration in the future. Reading, working on puzzles, playing games and participating in other mentally stimulating activities may help keep your brain sharp as you get older.
Eat a healthy diet — Proper nutrition can boost your overall well-being, including your brain health. Experts recommend a Mediterranean-style diet incorporating healthy whole grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts, fish, plant proteins and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. Eating right can also help keep your blood pressure in check, which may reduce your chances of cognitive decline. Medical authorities also recommend limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks per day, since drinking in excess is a significant risk factor for developing dementia.
Connect with others — Research correlates strong social ties with health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing dementia. As you age, make an effort to maintain existing relationships and to make new friends. Join a club or take up a hobby that will allow you a variety of opportunities to socialize with others.
Manage stress — Depression, anxiety, exhaustion and sleep deprivation all correlate with poor scores on cognitive functioning tests. While lower scores do not necessarily indicate a higher risk of cognitive decline with aging, experts recommend keeping stress to a minimum and getting sufficient sleep. If you have trouble getting enough rest, consult with your doctor and work on developing good sleep hygiene habits.
As executive director of a Stamford-based senior living community, it’s my mission to ease the challenges faced by older adults and enhance human connection. By engaging in regular exercise, eating healthy, connecting with others, keeping stress in check and staying active, you can take important steps toward avoiding cognitive decline as you age. If you or a loved one seems to be suffering from memory loss or shows warning signs of dementia, please contact a doctor. The experts at Edgehill are also available to help you navigate and understand Alzheimer’s disease.
Christopher Barstein, executive director at Edgehill Community, a Benchmark Senior Living Community in Stamford, has dedicated his career to improving the lives of seniors and enhancing human connection.