June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, and with nearly 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease today, taking action to boost our memory and brain health is especially important.
As with many profound health changes, boosting your memory and brain health starts with small steps. These five (5) actionable steps can make a profound impact:
1. Eat a healthy diet.
There’s a reason eating a healthy diet is on just about every list on this blog (and other health sites for seniors) — the number one way to improve health for any of us is to eat a healthy diet!
Research shows that diets high in fat and cholesterol can speed up the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. These sticky protein clusters are blamed for much of the damage that occurs in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
Avoiding foods high in fat and cholesterol, and focusing on a diet comprised of primarily whole, plant foods can have a tremendous impact on your overall and brain health. In particular, berries are loaded with memory-boosting antioxidants (and are a terrific, healthy dessert or snack!) and sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and many types of fish have been shown to boost brain health.
Exercise and a healthy diet go hand in hand. Together, they are your best superpowers to defeat or prevent many health issues. In particular, exercise can have a tremendous impact on brain health and memory.
Exercise boosts oxygen supply to your brain, and enhances the effects of positive brain chemicals while reducing stress hormones. In particular, exercise boosts growth factors and stimulates new neuronal connections, playing a critical role in neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections.
Stress hormones like cortisol have been linked to decreased memory and brain health. High amounts of cortisol have been linked to decreased memory and even brain shrinkage in adults. Elevated cortisol is also linked to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases – stress impacts our entire bodies!
Meditation has been proven to reduce stress and provide many health benefits to adults, and particularly seniors. A 2014 review of several studies found that meditation helped preserve cognitive function in seniors who are starting to have difficulties with memory and cognition. Meditation is also linked to reduced stress and inflammation, lower blood pressure, and much more.
Not sure where to get started? Apps like Calm and Headspace have free meditations to try. Or to start, simply sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes, and slowly breathe in and exhale, while focusing on your breath.
4. Get enough sleep.
A vast majority of adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep in order to avoid sleep deprivation. Even a small dip in sleep can lead to memory deprivation and a host of other issues.
During sleep, our bodies perform many restorative tasks, including memory consolidation of new memories each day. Focusing on high-quality sleep every night is critical to empower your brain to do its job for memory health.
Setting (and sticking to) a regular sleep schedule can help, as can avoiding screens (including the TV) for at least an hour before bed. Avoid eating or drinking after dinner, which can exacerbate acid reflux issues, and keep the bedroom cool and dark to support healthy sleep.
5. Give your brain a workout.
Just like with any muscle, the phrase “use it or lose it” comes into play for brain health. Our brains are designed to take the shortest possible path toward a goal. From childhood on, that means our brains have cleared millions of neural pathways for repetitive tasks.
But to keep our brains sharp, we should forge new neural pathways, in essence, giving our brains a workout. Puzzles, reading, developing new hobbies and skills can all contribute to better brain health.
Keep your senior loved ones healthy and protected.
If Mom or Dad is suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or other similar conditions, specialized senior home care can help provide your loved one with critical care and support, while alleviating some of the stress and burden on family caregivers. To learn more, contact your local Interim HealthCare location.