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A Healthy Brain Makes Aging More Enjoyable

Melody Stopher News

We jokingly call them “senior moments”—those times when the name of your dentist is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t quite remember it, or a frantic search for your car keys ends when you discover them next to the carton of milk in your refrigerator. Usually, these are common and harmless lapses in memory; at other times, they can be the first signs of a more serious condition.

There is a lot of talk about heart health, prevention of cancer and osteoporosis and so forth, but it’s equally important to pay attention to your brain health as you age. The good news is that the steps you take to improve your overall health are also beneficial to your brain.

Some factors in brain change are out of our control, such as the genes we inherit and, to a certain extent, the environment we live and work in. However, we do have a great deal of control over our lifestyle, which in turn has a tremendous impact on brain health.

Some of the potential risks or threats to brain health related to lifestyle include:Certain medicines—or the improper use of medicines—which can affect memory, sleep and brain function.

  • Smoking, which can restrict blood flow throughout the body, including the brain.
  • Excessive use of alcohol, which can slow or otherwise impair communication among brain cells. 
  • Heart disease, diabetes and other health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury and depression. Diabetes damages blood vessels throughout the body, including the brain, and may increase the risk for memory problems and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Poor diet.
  • Insufficient sleep and/or sleep apnea.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Limited social activity and/or being alone most of the time.

It’s never too early or too late to begin protecting your brain health. There are many things you can do—small changes in your lifestyle that accumulate into big rewards—to keep your brain function and memory as healthy as possible:Control your cholesterol, high blood pressure and/or diabetes—If your doctor has prescribed medications to treat these conditions, make it a priority to never skip a dose and to closely follow the directions for use.

  • Get regular exercise—Remember that something as simple as walking around your block or doing yard work counts as exercise.
  • Eat healthy foods—Go for a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits; whole grains; lean meats, fish and poultry; low-fat or non-fat dairy products; and healthy oils. Make sure you’re eating only moderate portions of food, and cut back on solid fat, sugar and salt. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated.
  • Quit smoking—Ventura County offers free stop-smoking classes all around our area. Call 805-201-7867 or email callitquits@ventura.org.
  • Limit use of alcohol— Fortunately, some of the damage may be reversed if you cut back significantly on alcohol consumption or stay away from it altogether. 
  • Always keep learning—There are abundant opportunities for you to keep your brain stimulated and challenged, no matter how old you are. Crossword and word search puzzles, games, community classes and events, books and magazines, and many online resources—including apps created specifically to increase brain power—are readily available.
  • Connect with family, friends and your community—Find a club, church or other organization and get involved. There are also dozens of opportunities for volunteering right in your community. Make it a point to socialize with neighbors and loved ones.

One of the most important steps you can take to keep your brain healthy is to get regular checkups with your primary care physician. There are a number of diseases and conditions—such as depression, loss of sleep and low thyroid—that can mimic or produce memory loss and other brain changes. Your doctor can help identify any of these issues and put you on the right path of treatment.

Take your first step toward improving your brain health today by choosing one lifestyle change you can get going on right away, such as taking a walk, adding a serving of vegetables to your daily diet or making an appointment to see your physician. Write that choice down—and stick to it. Your brain will thank you!

Melody Stopher, RN, BSN, PHN, is the clinical manager for Adventist Health Home Care Services at Simi Valley Hospital.