By: Erin Stair, MD, MPH
Is it possible to prevent dementia? Or boost your brain power? I think it’s hard to say, and probably depends on genetics and other mysteries of life that we haven’t figured out yet. But there are lifestyle changes we can make to reduce our risk.
1) Be Selective with Your Attention:
“Attention is the process most vulnerable to aging.” This means focus on what you want to remember and learn, and let the other stuff go. There is some evidence ( not robust) that shows that binaural beats can improve focus and attention. I listen to our ZENTones, rooted in binaural beats, when I want to focus better. It seems to work for me, but I’m not a randomized controlled trial or anything like that. 🙂
2) Stimulate your brain with Nerd Games:
Your brain needs a workout as much as the rest of your body parts. Of course, cardio helps improve our cardiovascular health and helps optimize blood flow to the brain, but there are “nerd games” you can do to boost your brain power…and maybe they prevent dementia: Play chess, do Sudoku and crossword puzzles, read, write, draw, learn new words, solve problems, play a musical intrument, or play board games. ( See below for sample brain puzzles that you can do with a friend.)
3) Recognize Depression
Depression can destroy your memory and your attention span. It kills your ability to think. If you have it, try to get help for it, and your ability to think will be restored. I know this, because I suffered with depression in my early and mid-twenties, and my mind, especially my memory, didn’t work at all. Also keep in mind that lack of sleep and sleep troubles are independently linked to poor memory AND independently linked to symptoms of depression. In fact, many studies show that treating only the insomnia for depressed individuals improves the depression, without addressing the “depression” symptoms at all. When I worked as the chief clinical lead for an international digital mental health company that created digital programs for common mental health problems, people who were depressed and completed our insomnia program experienced improvements in their depression symptoms.
4) Stay Physically Active
Staying active improves and encourages blood flow to our brain and it also seems to have a direct beneficial effect on cognition. It’s also a great way to manage stress, another factor that kills our ability to think. Regular exercise also reduces our risk of stroke, which significantly impacts brainpower.
5) Eat Healthy
Diet might be the most significant factor for preventing dementia. If you are really interested in the topics of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I highly recommend listening to my Causes or Cures podcast with Dr. Douglas Watt. He is a world expert on this topic and provides an excellent and evidence-based overview on the causes of dementia and how diet and lifestyle impact outcomes. ( There is a little clicking noise throughout it ( sorry about that) but it is beyond informative and worth it. People who have listened to it, often folks with loved ones who were recently diagnosed with early dementia, write me and thank me for how informative it is.
6) Interact with Others
Isolation leads to mental decline, especially as we get older. Force yourself to get outside and interact with others, even if you don’t want to.
7)Get Adequate Nutrition
Any sort of malnutrition issue or vitamin deficiency can lead to mental decline. Specifically make sure you do not have a Vitamin B12 deficiency.
8) Use Tools to help with any memory decline
Write things down, make lists, take notes. I do this all the time. Whenever I get an idea or have a question about something, I write it down. If you came to my apartment, you’d see tons of notebooks full of my notes.
9) Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation leads to many chronic issues, including mental decline and depression. Get yourself on a proper sleep schedule and make sure you are sleeping well and don’t have issues with sleep apnea, a silent killer that often goes undiagnosed. It’s often harder to diagnose if you are single, because a partner might hear you snoring, a common symptom of sleep apnea, and alert you to a potential problem. If you think you have sleep apnea, set up a sleep study at your local hospital so you can get fitted with a mask to ensure your brain still gets oxygenated at night.
10) Does EMF exposure have anything to do with this?
Well, I don’t know. When I talk about EMF radiation exposure, I am referring to our now bombardment of exposure from wireless technology: cell phones, wireless headphones, laptops. And now we are getting exposed at younger and younger ages. I write A LOT about the researched health effects from EMF radiation, but I also did an interesting podcast on this specific topic with Dr. Colin Pritchard, a doctor and researcher in the UK. It is a FASCINATING one to listen to and is a good start for exploring this theory more. You’ll also find other episodes related to the topic of EMF exposure in general.
What are Brain Fitness Programs and Can They Prevent Dementia?
An article published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry states that brain exercises and lifestyle changes can significantly improve elderly adults’ memories. The memory fitness program was created by Gary Small, MD, professor of aging at UCLA and director of the UCLA Longevity Center, and Karen Miller, Ph.D., associate clinical professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. 115 residents over the age of 62, living in 2 Maryland- based, continuing-care community homes who had complaints of memory loss, but no official diagnosis of dementia, were enrolled in the 6-week study. Some participants were assigned to the memory fitness group, consisting of 12 twice-weekly, hour-long sessions, and some were assigned to a control group. Activities for the memory fitness group included memory-building games, regular physical fitness, stress reduction activities, and following a healthy diet. The participants’ improvement in immediate and delayed verbal memory, retention of verbal information, memory recognition and verbal fluency were then measured. Subjectivity was also measured by questioning participants about their frequency and severity of forgetfulness and opinion of memory functioning both before and after the memory fitness program. Results showed a statistically significant improvement in those undergoing the memory fitness program, especially in the categories of recognition memory and retention of verbal list learning. The memory fitness participants also improved in the subjectivity categories, noting that they felt like their memories improved after completion of the program.This study indicates that memory-building fitness programs may significantly improve memory in the aging population and, potentially, may slow the onset and severity of dementia. Dr. John Parrish, executive director of the Erickson Foundation who oversees the retirement communities used in this study, stated that the foundation is now offering the program in all 16 of their retirement communities across the nation. Hopefully more retirement communities will follow suit in the future as more people recognize the benefits of “brain” exercises and a healthy lifestyle for improving memory. It’s a very promising, easy, cost-effective way to improve memory, the loss of which can lead to depression and anxiety by itself.
Okay, I can’t say the below helps prevent dementia, but you can try these for fun and notice if you feel sharper or mor focused afterwards:
1) In each puzzle below, we began with a word, name, or 2 word phrase containing the letters P-E-R-S-O-N in left to right order, although not necessarily consecutively. Then we removed the letters P-E-R-S-O-N, any punctuation, and closed up spaces. What are the original words?
2) Below are proverbs and common sayings in which each word has been replaced by a rhyming word ( ignore punctuation, which may have changed). For example- “blue plant beach man sold log threw sticks” becomes “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Any bands wake night clerk.
Knew Fred’s star setter can run
Knife whiz cussed the Seoul glove ferries
Said Penn fell, so fails
If you figure these out, post below! Or let me know on Instagram.
Other blogs that might interest you: