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Brain Health

What You Need to Know to Stay Healthy

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The possibility of losing cognitive abilities as you age can be scary. So scary, in fact, that you might find yourself popping the latest supplement or playing the newest game designed to “improve your cognitive function.”

But there’s more to your brain health than whether you take fish oil capsules or complete puzzles. We’ll take an in-depth look at brain health, including signs of cognitive impairment, nutrition’s role in brain health, surprising things that affect brain health and much more.

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Brain Health: What’s Normal, What’s Not

Previously, scientists thought you reached your mental peak in your 20s, in middle age your cognitive abilities plateaued and then as you age, your cognitive abilities gradually declined.

Thanks to research, we know that’s not true. Your brain is constantly changing throughout your life, and as you age, some abilities decline while others improve.

Normal vs. Abnormal Brain Changes

Normal

Sometimes forgetting names or appointment times but remembering them later.
Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook or doing a puzzle.
Needing occasional help with the settings on a technological device.
Confusion about the day of the week but remembering it later.
Vision changes related to cataracts or nearsighted/farsightedness.
Sometimes struggling to find the right words.
Occasionally not wanting to go to work or social engagements.
Developing a routine for doing things and becoming irritable when that routine is disrupted.

Abnormal

Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
Difficulties problem solving or planning.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
Confusion about time and place.
Difficulty understanding visual images or spatial relationships.
New problems speaking or writing
Withdrawing from work or social activities.
Personality or mood changes.

Signs of Cognitive Impairment

Mild cognitive impairment is a slight but noticeable decline in memory and thinking skills and other areas of cognitive function. It’s important to note that while these changes are noticeable, they’re not significant enough to impact daily function or independence.

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Common Brain Health Myths

Myth #1: Alzheimer’s Disease Skips a Generation

While there is a genetic component to Alzheimer’s, there is no proof the disease skips a generation.

Myth #2: Supplements Can Protect Your Brain Health

Doctors at Harvard Health say there’s little if any evidence to support claims that vitamins and supplements do anything to protect or improve brain health.

Myth #3: Brain Health is Just Your Memory

Your cognitive health encompasses a variety of functions like decision-making, attention and problem-solving abilities. It also includes how well you can make and control movements, how you interpret and respond to emotions and how you feel and respond to sensations like touch or pressure.

Myth #4: Puzzles and Games Boost Your Brain Health

Doing a repetitive task like a puzzle or game doesn’t boost your brain health, but learning something new like a language or skill does. And those brain-training games that tout the ability to improve your cognitive ability? For the most part, playing those games can make you better at the game itself, but they have not shown any benefit to improved brain health, according to The New York Times.

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Surprising Things that Impact Your Risk of Cognitive Decline

Lowers Your Risk

Being Married
Sleeping on Your Side
Good Oral Health

Raises your risk

High Blood Pressure in Midlife
Artificial Sweeteners
Drugs like Benadryl or Tylenol
Low Vitamin D
Prolonged Use of Heartburn Medicines like Proton Pump Inhibitors
Hearing Loss
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Nutrition & Brain Health: What Helps, What Doesn’t

Good

Blueberries
Nuts
Salmon, Other Fatty Fish
Avocado
Greek Yogurt

Bad

Artificial Sweeteners
Fish High in Mercury
Trans Fats

Alzheimer’s Disease and Diabetes

Research has uncovered a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Uncontrolled high blood sugar can damage the brain. Diabetes causes increased levels of insulin in the brain, and just like the body of someone with diabetes, the brain can have trouble processing the excess insulin, leading to cognitive decline.

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These 5 treatable conditions can mimic dementia.

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Types of Dementia

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

WHAT HAPPENS
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or mad cow disease, is an extremely rare fatal brain disease known as a prion disease. It causes dementia that progresses quickly.
symptoms
Rapidly worsening confusion, disorientation, and problems with memory, thinking, planning and judgment.
Risk factors
Most cases of CJD occur spontaneously, however, there is a genetic component.

Huntington’s Disease

WHAT HAPPENS
Huntington’s disease is a genetic, progressive brain disease that causes changes in movement, mood and thinking skills.
symptoms
Uncontrolled movement of the arms, legs, head, face and upper body. A decline in thinking and reasoning abilities.
Risk factors
Having a family history

Mixed Dementia

WHAT HAPPENS
The most common form of dementia is mixed dementia. It happens when characteristics of multiple forms of dementia occur at once. 
symptoms
Vary but can be similar to Alzheimer’s
Risk factors
The same risks for Alzheimer’s disease

Lewy Body Dementia

WHAT HAPPENS
Abnormal microscopic deposits damage brain cells over time causing a progressive decline in thinking, reasoning and function.
symptoms
Changes in thinking, visual hallucinations, confusion, Parkinson’s disease-like movements
Risk factors
Unknown. There is no associated gene or specific cause.

Frontotemporal Dementia

WHAT HAPPENS
Progressive nerve cell loss in the frontal lobes of your brain.
symptoms
Deterioration in behavior, personality and/or difficulty with producing or comprehending language.
Risk factors
Family history

Vascular Dementia

WHAT HAPPENS
Cerebrovascular disease causes a decline in thinking skills
symptoms
May happen after a stroke and include confusion, disorientation, trouble speaking, vision loss
Risk factors
Advancing age, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol
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Ways to Protect Your Brain Health

While there’s no cure for dementia, there are things you can do to protect your brain health like:

  • Learning a new skill, such as dancing or a language
  • Doing aerobic exercises
  • Trying mindful relaxation to reduce the effects of stress
  • Getting at least eight hours of sleep per night
  • Eating a Mediterranean diet
  • Remaining social and creative

Brain Health: How to Get Help

When it comes to your brain health, you should be aware of the signs of abnormal cognitive impairment. If you or someone you love start experiencing these symptoms, or if you have questions, talk to a doctor.

Dementia Friends

If you or someone you know is diagnosed with dementia, you can still live a very full life. Dementia Friends is a global movement aimed at reducing the stigma associated with dementia. It educates people about dementia and how they can enrich the lives of those with the disease. Find out more about how you can become a Dementia Friend in just an hour by visiting the website.

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