Boosting Our Brain Health

As we usher in a new year, many of us have resolved to get in better shape for 2015. Indeed, working out more (or for some, just working out) ranks as a popular New Year’s resolution. But while we often focus on exercise for our bodies, what about exercise for our minds? With rates of Alzheimer’s disease soaring in North America, there’s very good reason to be concerned about our brains as we age.

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January is Alzheimer’s awareness month in Canada, a sharp reminder of just how serious and widespread the disease is. The statistics are alarming: 747,000 Canadians live with it, a number that’s projected to nearly double to 1.4 million Canadians by 2031[1]. In the United States, more than 5 million people are living with the disease, which is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death. One in three seniors in the United States dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia[2]. Alzheimer’s is often associated with the elderly, yet it can also strike at a younger age. Early onset Alzheimer’s affects people in their 40s and 50s – up to five percent of Americans with Alzheimer’s have early-onset.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and its personal toll is devastating. Those affected experience memory loss and a deterioration of their intellectual abilities as symptoms gradually worsen over time. In the later stages of the disease, those afflicted are unable to carry on a conversation and have trouble with daily tasks. There is an effort to increase understanding about the disease – and reduce the stigma that keeps people from talking about it – and talking to their doctors, because early diagnosis is key [3].

While these statistics are sobering, we can also take heart in the fact that there are concrete steps we can take to improve our brain health as we age. These include:

  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Reducing stress
  • Challenging the brain by trying something new, playing games (for instance, crossword puzzles) or learning a new language
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fish, legumes and vegetables
  • Staying socially connected and regularly interacting with others
  • Being physically active
  • Keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight within recommended ranges

Taking charge of our overall health must include looking after our cognitive health too, because if we ignore our brain health the costs of doing so could be very high. Right now, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease so taking active steps to help guard against dementia is our best defence.

[1] Alzheimer Society of Canada http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/What-is-dementia/Dementia-numbers
[2] Alzheimer’s Association  http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp#quickFacts

[3] Canadian Institute of Health Research. http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/47856.html

 

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