Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is good for your brain

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t just good for your body — it’s good for your brain. Studies have shown that adults in their 40s and 50s who are physically fit are less prone to memory loss later in life.

Indeed, as the population has become increasingly focused on cardiovascular health, fewer people are being diagnosed with dementia. However, because of our longer lifespan, there are more people in the world living with memory loss.

The condition falls under the general term of dementia, which refers to cognitive problems severe enough to impact daily functioning.

The most common cause of memory loss is Alzheimer’s disease, but it also can result from strokes or other heart events that reduce blood flow to the brain, as well as from other disorders.

Unless memory loss stems from a temporary condition — such as stress, alcohol use or reaction to a medication — the effects are irreversible. That’s why prevention is so important.

Along with exercise, heart-healthy eating habits have been associated with countering dementia. Among them is the Mediterranean diet, which relies heavily on plant-based foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts; replaces butter with olive oil and salt with spices; and limits the intake of red meat and sweets. Foods containing turmeric or that are rich in vitamin E — like spinach, sweet potatoes and avocados — also have been connected with preventing memory loss.

There is no magic bullet that eliminates the prospect of developing a memory disorder, but some behaviors are thought to help keep the brain sharp.

Five tips to preserve your memory

  • Socialize. Avoid isolation. Join in activities at the senior center, enjoy a meal with friends or spend time with a neighbor. Keeping busy and engaged helps you to feel good about yourself and keeps your brain function up.
  • Engage your brain. Stimulate your thinking by reading, doing puzzles or playing a game. Don’t binge on television.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Reserve your bedroom for restorative slumber, not watching TV or spending time on your iPad. Limit your caffeine intake late in the day.
  • Watch your mood. Depression and anxiety can affect your memory. Relax. Find an activity that helps you relieve the stress of daily life. If you suspect you may be suffering from a mood condition, consult a medical professional.
  • Avoid harmful medications. Certain sleep aids, for example, are known to cause confusion in older adults. Review your medication list — both prescription and over-the-counter drugs — with your doctor.

There is no one diagnostic test for dementia, and the person it affects often has a lack of awareness about his or her condition. Usually it’s family members who notice the signs. Short-term memory, which is stored in a different part of the brain from long-term memory, is first to be impacted. Commonly, this manifests itself in forgetting to pay bills or attend to finances, getting lost while driving or neglecting to take medications.

About 26,000 Delawareans are coping with a memory disorder. At the Swank Memory Care Center, we help patients by determining if what they are experiencing truly is dementia, or if there is something else at work, as is the case for 5 to 10 percent of our clients.

While there is no medicine that can combat memory loss, there are treatments for some of dementia’s symptoms, such as hallucinations. We also provide caregivers the education and support they need to deal with their loved one’s progressive change in function, as well as the encouragement to take time to care for themselves.

To make an appointment or learn more about the center, visit our website or call 302-320-2637.