When it comes to brain health as we age, there is good news and bad news. The good news? Not only have certain activities been proven to help keep our brains healthy as we get older, many adults correctly recognize which activities may be beneficial for brain protection. The bad news, predictably, is that adults aren’t actually doing these things they know may protect their aging brains.
According to an AARP survey on brain health, there is a gap between what people believe is good for their brains and what they actually do to preserve their cognitive function. More than 1,500 adults over age 40 were surveyed and, though 98 percent said that maintaining and improving brain health was very or somewhat important, only half are participating in activities that have been shown to protect their brains.
Here are the activities that the adults surveyed think are important:
Getting enough sleep: 98 percent
Exercising regularly: 97 percent
Effectively managing stress: 96 percent
Eating a healthy diet: 96 percent
Reading: 94 percent
However, understanding the benefit of participating in the activities and actually doing so is where we see the gap. Only 56 percent of adults said they succeed in eating a healthy diet or finding time to maintain a regular exercise regimen. 64 percent said they find time to read, but only 59 percent are able to get a good night’s sleep. And, adults have the hardest time with the very thing they deem most important: only 43 percent say they are able to manage stress effectively.
What actually works?
Last April, the Institute of Medicine released a new report that spelled out what older Americans can do to keep their brains healthy into very old age and what may cause harm to their cognitive functions as they grow older.
Eating a healthy diet: Rita Altman, RN, MSN, CVN, and Sunrise Senior Living VP of Memory Care Services, says avoiding unhealthy brain foods and eating a well-balanced diet will help you ensure future brain health as well as make your mind feel sharper and your body feel better today. According to Rita, two easy ways to eat a healthier diet include cutting back on sugar and simple carbohydrates and reducing your intake of foods high in fat and cholesterol.
Regular exercise: Aerobic exercise is very beneficial to brain health and studies have shown that exercise not only improves thinking skills in those with memory problems, but also reduces levels of toxic tau protein in the brain.
Staying socially and intellectually active: Social activities such as volunteering, playing cards, attending worship services and talking to friends can help keep your brain sharp. Activities such as reading books, learning new languages and writing letters also may all help preserve brain function.
Getting good sleep: Studies show that poor sleep quality is linked to Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment. Better sleep has been proven to help brain health later in life.
What doesn’t work?
Depression: Treating depression is vital to improving the quality of life for older adults. Depression in midlife and later are strongly linked to dementia.
Certain medication: Medications such as strong anticholinergic drugs (including antihistamines such as Benadryl and some antidepressants) as well as benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax) have been linked to delirium, cognitive impairment and dementia.
Stress: Long-term stress is connected with faster rates of decline in brain health and daily stress can cause memory problems. Meditation and mindfulness may help manage stress levels.
Delirium and hospitalization: Helping patients get good sleep, control pain and stay hydrated have all been used as strategies to reduce delirium and hospitalization, which have both been linked to mental decline.
According to Rita Altman, in order to keep your brain sharp, “stay engaged in life. Body, mind, and spirit should be taken care of as a whole to slow the progression of dementia. Staying socially and mentally active are key. And, maintain proper nutrition!”
Source: Sunrise Senior Living