Alzheimer’s, Brain Awareness Month

ELKINS — June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, which is a great time to focus on healthy lifestyle behaviors that can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Currently, more than six million Americans, ages 65 and older, live with Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive, fatal brain disease that kills nerve cells and tissues in the brain. In West Virginia that number is 39,000 individuals, ages 65 and older, living with the disease. While age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and some brain changes are inevitable as we age, there is a growing body of research to suggest that adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors - including healthy eating, exercising regularly, not smoking and staying cognitively engaged - may help people age healthier and help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Sharon Covert, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association West Virginia Chapter, said, “Researchers are working to determine what may be the optimal lifestyle ‘recipe’ to reduce cognitive decline, but there are steps we can take now to age well and to help reduce the risk.”

Below are five tips to better your brain health:

Exercise regularly — Regular cardiovascular exercise helps increase blood flow to the body and brain, and there is strong evidence that regular physical activity is linked to better memory and thinking.

Maintain a heart-healthy diet — Stick to a meal schedule full of fruits and vegetables to ensure a well-balanced diet. Some evidence suggests a healthful diet is linked to cognitive performance. The Mediterranean and DASH diets, which emphasize whole grains, green leafy vegetables, fish and berries, are linked to better cognitive functioning, and help reduce risk of heart disease as well.

Get proper sleep — Maintaining a regular, uninterrupted sleep pattern benefits physical and psychological health, and helps clear waste from the brain. Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night and try to keep a routine bedtime.

Stay socially and mentally active — Meaningful social engagement may support cognitive health, so stay connected with friends and family. Engage your mind by doing activities that stump you, like completing a jigsaw puzzle or playing strategy games. Or challenge yourself further by learning a new language or musical instrument.

Keep your heart healthy — Recent study shows strong evidence that a healthier heart is connected to a healthier brain. The study shows that aggressively treating high blood pressure in older adults can help reduce the development of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Covert said these tips are good guidelines to follow at any age. “Research suggests that incorporating these behaviors in combination will have the greatest benefit, but even if you begin with one or two, you’re moving in the right direction,” she said.