Brain Health: Research on Aging and Memory Loss

brain health aging and memory lossI just attended an excellent community education seminar on healthy brain aging hosted by the SIU School of Medicine’s Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (CADRD) on May 30, 2012. It was a fantastic two-hour seminar discussing all the latest research on aging and how the findings can be used to improve brain health to reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease and memory loss.

Many of the findings for improved brain health are common sense principles for healthy living overall that can be broken down into six major lifestyle factors either contributing to or protecting from dementia, depending on your own personal choices and life habits:

Nutrition/diet – You are what you eat, and junk food just won’t cut it for the long run. Eating well is incredibly important to your overall health and the aging process in general. The Mediterranean diet is recommended, along with some interesting new studies suggesting that calorie restriction slows the aging process and intermittent fasting can significantly improve brain health.

Exercise – 1 hour a day is recommended as an optimum goal, but any physical activity is better than none at all, even 30 minutes 3 to 4 times per week.

Sleep – 7 to 8 quality hours per day are recommended, and the amount of deep sleep or REM sleep is just as important as the overall amount of sleep time.

Stress Control – Long-term stress is incredibly bad for you, and you must actively seek ways to minimize stress in your life. Concentrate on things you can change to reduce your stress; this includes yourself, the present and the future since you obviously can’t change others or the past.

Cognitive Activity – The “use it or lose it” mentality certainly applies for dementia, and learning completely new things helps brain health more than other more familiar and repeated activities like reading, crossword puzzles, etc.

Social Interaction – Connecting with others in a meaningful way on a regular basis improves your well being and mental health.

We hear this advice all the time, right? Eat right, sleep enough, and exercise! Still, I did learn some new things and hear about some particularly fascinating studies regarding diet and genetics.

The conference presenters, Dr. Ron Zec and Dr. Tom Ala, debated and finally decided that diabetes is the number one disease putting people most at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease at a later time.

Dr. Mark Mattson from the National Institute on Aging has studied intermittent fasting and found it to be better than calorie restriction for maintaining and even improving brain health. Fasting was described in this seminar as 18 hours or longer without any food intake.

Dr. John Morris from Washington University School of Medicine is studying a gene mutation that causes a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease through a research partnership called the DIAN Study. DIAN stands for “Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network,” and apparently only 500 families in the whole world have this mutated gene that GUARANTEES you will develop Alzheimer’s disease with 100% certainty. This is a unique study group because no one else is guaranteed to develop Alzheimer’s, even those with first degree relatives who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For this reason, the DIAN Study group may provide the key to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by studying and treating participants long before their symptoms of dementia become apparent, while they are still young and healthy. That sounds promising, don’t you think?

Many thanks to SIU School of Medicine’s CADRD for providing the community with such useful information free of charge. I was happy to see the seminar packed full of people interested in the topic of brain health. This seminar and the Annual Memory Loss Conference I attended last November have both been extremely helpful as I continue to wrap my head around dementia and its unavoidable legacy within my family. While genetics do play a part in my family’s future with Alzheimer’s disease, thankfully there are lifestyle and environmental factors I can focus on to maintain and improve my own health to possibly prevent or delay the progression of dementia. And that is good news worth sharing.

I do a really great job already with three of the risk factors for dementia – exercise, sleep and social interaction. I know I can work harder on nutrition, stress control and cognitive activity. How about you? Are you implementing any lifestyle changes to promote a healthy brain and body?

Brought To Our Senses family saga novel by Kathleen H. Wheeler


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