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Keeping Your Brain Top of Mind

It’s common for people to think that being forgetful comes with aging, yet for 747,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, being forgetful takes on a whole new meaning.

By: Kelly Atyeo-Fick, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec

Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia

It’s common for people to think that being forgetful comes with aging, yet for 747,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, being forgetful takes on a whole new meaning. 

Dementia describes a set of symptoms that take place when the brain is affected by a disease.1 

Some of these symptoms include: memory loss, difficulties thinking/problem-solving, mood changes and loss of ability to perform daily tasks.1  

The most common disease that causes dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition that destroys the brain cells and causes memory loss and difficulty thinking.2

Being forgetful vs. dementia

Having dementia goes beyond just forgetting your house keys or whether you sent an email earlier in the day.3 However, there are some early signs of dementia that you can look out for if you’re worried about memory loss.

Some of the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease/dementia include:4

memory loss that impacts daily life

  • missing important events, overusing memory aids, asking family members to handle things that you use to take care of, forgetting names and then remembering them

issues with planning/problem solving

  • keeping track of monthly bills etc.

misplacing things and not being able to find them

  • putting items in unusual places, accusing people of stealing items

Decision making issues

  • Making out of character decisions, for example, giving large amounts of money to telemarketers

Mood/personality changes

  • Easily upset, confused, suspicious, anxious and out of character mood swings

Risk factors

Being over 65 years old and having a family history of Alzheimer’s disease are all risk factors that you cannot control.5 The good news is there are some risk factors that you can control.5

These include:

  • Preventing heart disease, including high blood pressure & cholesterol
  • Preventing diabetes
  • Not smoking

Keeping the Brain Healthy

There are a number of ways you can help keep your brain healthy, including participating in physical activity, having a healthy diet and stimulating your mind.5

Physical activity – exercise is thought to benefit brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen to the brain 6 It also helps improve overall health by reducing risk factors associated with dementia like heart disease and diabetes.6

Nutrition – there is no specific diet to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia, however certain nutrients are of key interest to promote brain health and cognition.7  This includes omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants.8,9,10

Three diets that emphasize these nutrients and that are currently being studied for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia include the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet (which is a combination of the two).7,10 All these diets are similar in that they include fruits and vegetables, legumes, little red meat, choosing fish or poultry and eating healthier fats (vegetable oils etc.).7

Currently, the recommendations are to eat a healthy balanced diet and include physical activity in your daily routine.7,9 If you’d like to explore your diet further, please consult a Registered Dietitian or health care provider.

In the meantime, below are some great recipes inspired by the DASH and Mediterranean diet that can definitely be incorporated/modified to fit into a healthy balanced diet:

Cauliflower Lentil Chicken Soup

Chicken Mediterranean

Chicken Curry in a Hurry

Social stimulation & cognitive tasks           

Researcher have found that keeping mentally active as we age and taking part in social activities may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.11 Keeping your brain mentally active can actually even allow you to make new brain cells!12

Examples of how to stimulate your brain each day include12:

 

  • reading, writing, playing games (crosswords/puzzles)
  • memory exercises (card games)
  • taking courses
  • attending plays/performances
  • trying to learn new skills

 

Remember – your brain is an organ just like your heart.  It needs to be exercised to stay in the best shape possible!

References:

  1. Alzheimer Society Canada. (2016). What is dementia?. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/What-is-dementia
  2. Alzheimer Society Canada. (2016). Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/Alzheimer-s-disease
  3. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (2016). Just forgetful, or is it dementia? Retrieved January 30, 2016, from https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/forgetful-dementia/
  4. Alzheimer’s Association. (2009). Know the 10 Signs: Early Detection Matters. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.alz.org/national/documents/checklist_10signs.pdf
  5. Alzheimer’s Society Canada. (2016). Risk Factors. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/Alzheimer-s-disease/Risk-factors
  6. Alzheimer’s Association. (2016). Stay Physically Active. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_stay_physically_active.asp
  7. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Healthy diet could cut risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2015-03-31-healthy-diet-could-cut-risk-of-alzheimers-disease/
  8. Cole, G., Qiu-Lan, M. & Frautschy, S. (2009). Omega-3 fatty acids and dementia. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes & Essential Fatty Actids, 81(0), 213-221. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019002/pdf/nihms148019.pdf
  9. Eat Right Ontario. (2015). Nutrition and Alzheimer’s. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Seniors-nutrition/Nutrition-and-Alzheimer’s.aspx#.VrjMcVysaJV
  10. Alzheimer’s Society. (2016). Science behind the headlines: How to reduce your risk and other popular topics. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=2211&pageNumber=2
  11. Alzheimer’s Association. (2016). Prevention and Risk of Alzheimer's and Dementia. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_prevention_and_risk.asp#social
  12. Alzheimer’s Association. (2016). Staying Mentally Active. Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_stay_mentally_active.asp

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