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The 1-year anniversary of my father passing away with dementia occurred on February 3 2019.
Ever since I found out my dad had dementia and when I discovered I had one of the markers (giving me a 20-25% chance of getting it) I became interested in any research around the topic. It’s also one of the reasons I practice intermittent fasting as my dad had vascular dementia and there is promising research showing it may prevent vascular dementia: https://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=MARpj&m=lWmL3hgEb6icE4Y&b=_gNYClGmwLIesZ.uFLCVcw
Let me state clearly that there are currently no “miracle cures” for keeping your brain young or avoiding Alzheimers/Dementia – what you can do however is tip the scales in your favour by looking at current research and following those guidelines. So apart from intermittent fasting here are my top 10 tips for keeping your brain young well into retirement (and avoiding Alzheimer’s/Dementia)
1. Learn a musical instrument or another language (or both) – This seems to boost your “cognitive reserve” which is your spare mental capacity and seems to be the best way to stave off decline in later years.
2. Engage in regular physical exercise – Exercise increases the production of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” a chemical which spurs the creation of neurons in the part of the brain that helps to consolidate memories and new connections between them (the hippocampus). Exercise also boosts mitochondria which are the energy factories for cells within the brain. Aim to engage in moderate exercise (walking, cycling or swimming) for 3-5 days a week for 45-60 minutes.
3. Look after your hearing – People who have mild hearing loss are more likely to develop cognitive issues as the extra concentration involved when listening comes at the cost of other mental processes. I visit a place called “The Hearing Clinic” every 6-12 months to get the wax sucked out of my ears as I have claggy ears. If you need to get a hearing aid – get one (my Dad needed one but was too proud to get one)! Also look after your hearing by wearing ear plugs around heavy machinery or at the grand prix, or music concerts.
4. Practice meditation or mindfulness – When you are stressed out you risk brain inflammation which increases the activity of a neurotransmitter called Glutamate. This leads to shrinkage of existing brain cells and restricts the formation of new ones. There is some evidence that meditation and mindfulness practices can help by reducing inflammation – https://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=MARpj&m=lWmL3hgEb6icE4Y&b=208NBaw7kFB4SUkuBw4jnw
I practice 15 minutes a day of focussed breathing (breathe in for count of 8 and fill my stomach, breath out for count of 8). Even the very act of focussed heavy breathing reduces stress. Try it out.
5. Find your purpose in life – Focusing on something positive and bigger than yourself may activate the ventral striatum, which can inhibit areas like the amygdala, which usually promotes the stress response. So when you have a purpose you can deal with more stressful events without going into fight or flight. Choosing a purpose that benefits others may be particularly helpful. But striving for something that isn’t necessarily constructive, like running a marathon, learning a new skill (musical instrument or language would be good), may be enough to create the health-boosting biology
6. Be Social – Hanging out with other people can help preserve cognitive health in a similar way to activities like learning an instrument. Even being married is strongly associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia – https://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=MARpj&m=lWmL3hgEb6icE4Y&b=3qk8cUUj_a1cGqUwPyx5GQ
So cultivate your relationships and keep your friends close and engaged. Join a club, play a sport etc.
7. Get a good night’s sleep regularly – Aim to get 7 to 8 hours every night and try to remain in a pattern of going to bed and getting up at the same time. During sleep is when the brain gets rid of the biochemical gunk that accumulates throughout the day. That includes the proteins that can build up into plaques and tangles seen in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s
8. Eat healthily – Eat berries every day because people who eat them generally have better cognitive abilities. This might be because they contain lots of antioxidants, chemicals that protect cells from damaging free radicals. The same is true of leafy vegetables like spinach, kale etc. Foods that are high in sugar or full of refined carbohydrates should be avoided as they cause inflammation in the brain and body.
9. Cut back on the Booze – I like a drink as much as the next person and it seems when it comes to drinking alcohol the graph of mental decline is U shaped. Those that abstain from alcohol completely fair nearly as bad as those that binge or are heavy drinkers. The key is to practice moderation. Limit yourself to 2-3 drinks per session and then go onto the non-alcoholic drinks. Have a break in between sessions. There are loads of non-alcoholic choices out there now that are passable (including some not too bad beers, gin/rum replacements) – just beware of the sugar content of these and choose the low sugar ones.
10. Visit the dentist regularly – the latest research into Alzheimer’s shows a correlation between gum disease (periodontitis) bacteria and cases of Alzheimer’s – https://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=MARpj&m=lWmL3hgEb6icE4Y&b=Xo.G3aGPFYLxz4zjQHB0vA
The theory is that the sticky plaque seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients is in response to the bacteria from gum disease. The bacteria invades and inflames brain regions affected by Alzheimer’s! So my advice is to regularly visit the dentist and if you are spitting blood when you brush – go to your dentist. Once again my Dad was very stubborn in this area and thought all dentists were crooks out to rob you of your money for work you didn’t need!