Brain Health – Defending Against Dementia
Dementia scares the heck out of me. I am in my 50’s and have seen how this disease has ravaged family members. Every time I forget a detail or misplace an object I wonder if it is beginning – that long slow slide towards senility.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but there are a number of other types of dementia as well.
The classic medical approach has been to slow progression of the disease and treat symptoms, often with serious side effects. Families are sadly told there is no cure or prevention and to make necessary arrangements for care.
Being a baby boomer has its advantages. A whole lot of other people are around my age, including medical researchers, equally interested in preventing and treating dementia. This means that recently studies have been flooding the medical and scientific journals, studies that point to preventing and possibly even curing Alzheimer’s. I find these studies very exciting, because they are not about the latest and greatest pharmaceutical, but rather about diet and lifestyle factors.
I teach others about these factors, and incorporate them into my own brain health program. Here is a peak at some of the best and latest practices for maintaining brain health:
- Sleep – the brain needs enough time to “wash” itself each night. Plan on 6-8 hours of sleep. Be sure your room is perfectly dark, or wear a sleep mask and avoid screens after dinner. If you snore or wake frequently, ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep clinic to test for sleep apnea. Problems with short-term memory and difficulty concentrating are often brought on by insufficient sleep.
- Prevent the highs and lows of blood sugar – the brain is very sensitive to changes in blood sugar levels, and causing rapid change can inflame and damage delicate neurons. Don’t eat anything after supper until the following morning. This gives your body a little “fast”, and will help normalize the cell response to sugar and insulin. At first this may be difficult. If you experience wakefulness, try just a piece of fruit before bed, and then see if you can wean off even that. Walking for 15 minutes after a big meal will also help normalize blood sugar. Avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour, and eat just to a point of barely feeling full.
- Exercise at least 4-6 times a week. Do something, even if it is just a short walk or a yoga workout. All exercise is beneficial. Eventually you want to do some “high intensity short duration” training which will have the most impact on your health. Start with walking, then gradually add in short “bursts” of jogging.
- Meditation. 15-20 minutes a day of quieting the mind will decrease cortisol levels which will decrease inflammation in the brain and body. You can do meditation as a secular practice, just deep breathing and relaxing the body, or you can do it as part of a faith practice. The important thing is to develop it into a habit.
Personally, I have the best success at incorporating new habits one at a time. I will pick one thing to focus on for a week, and then add in the next habit the following week, you might like to try the same approach.
If you would like a more individualized approach to brain health, including specific functional testing, optimizing your diet and incorporating supplements and herbs known for their ability to prevent and heal the brain, let me know and we will set up an appointment. Working together I am confident we can reduce your risk for dementia.