I think that most of us are afraid of loosing our mental abilities as we age; of developing dementia, in any of its forms. Even for those who do not have a positive family history of dementia it remains a concern because the loss of our mental abilities can be accompanied by a real loss of independence.
It should be encouraging to know, however, that there a number of well documented interventions that will help protect our brain function, preserving our cognitive abilities.
It is interesting to me, as I read through this list, how closely they mirror the components of balanced care that we always feature; the Five Stones.
We know that diet plays a critical role in our health and wellbeing, perhaps no place as important as when we consider the health of our brains. As Dr Mark Hyman teaches, dementia can be thought of as Type III Diabetes, meaning that elevated blood sugar is a significant contributor to declining brain function. There have been several studies linking elevated blood sugars to the risk of developing dementia. And knowing that the risk of developing Diabetes increases with excess weight, it makes sense to try to maintain optimal body weight as an anti-dementia strategy. We also know that maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system will help reduce dementia that is caused by inflammation and blockage of the carotid arteries and other vessels that supply blood to the brain.
We know of several nutrients that are key to good brain health, including the beneficial fats in fish oil (Omega 3 oils), Some B vitamins, and antioxidants.
Recent studies have shown the beneficial effects of exercise in reducing the risk of dementia; so it is important to practice some form of balanced movement in our daily routine. We all know that exercise is a good thing, but the added incentive of the knowledge that it can help prevent the development of dementia makes an even stronger case to include exercise in our lives.
We understand the powerful, and often negative effects of stress; the brain is not spared. When stress elevates our blood pressure or even our blood sugar, it can have a significant impact on the health of the brain and our risk of cognitive decline as we age. Practicing stress management skills such as mindfulness or meditation then becomes even more important as a component of our self-care plan for improved health.
As we begin to understand the connections between our happiness and our health, we can start to understand the effects of isolation and loneness on a person’s health and thus presumably, brain health and their overall wellbeing. Loneliness has been proven to be a major contributor to illness, possibly through an increase in inflammation, which clearly could impact the risk of the development of dementia. We know the power of interconnectedness in overall wellbeing, and it would follow that connection to something outside of ourselves would likely also have a positive impact on our brain health.
So yes, we know factors that increase our chances of developing dementia; the good news is that we have actions that can be taken to help reduce these increased risks; the same actions that will help us live healthier lives in general.