By: Ebony McKinnies, MD, Neurologist
We grow, we learn, we age, we forget. Or do we? New research shows that
our brains actually change over our lifetimes, adapting and meeting the
challenges at each stage.
Of all life's milestones, none may be more pronounced than those associated
with brain development. From birth to two years old, babies are like sponges,
soaking up language and knowledge that's all around them. For a 65-year-old
person, learning a new language may be more difficult, but not impossible.
Research also shows that a healthy lifestyle helps brains age better. Memory
naturally declines with age, but the better we treat our brains along
the way can lead to healthier brains as we get older.
Healthy lifestyle habits, from diets to active social lives, can slow memory
decline. Studies show links between dementia and lifestyle factors such
as social isolation and obesity. Here are six habits to keep the brain
and rest of our bodies, healthy:
Balanced diets—Eating appropriate daily servings of at least 7 of 12 major foods:
fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, salt, oil, eggs, cereals,
legumes, nuts and tea.
Exercise for the mind and body—Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical
activity a week and exercising the mind at least twice a week by reading,
playing cards, crossword puzzles, video games or any activity that challenges
Social life—Keeping up with family and friends socially at least twice a week.
As witnessed during the pandemic lockdown, social isolation can increase
risks for physical and mental health conditions including dementia, hypertension,
heart disease and depression. John Hopkins researchers estimate that people
who are socially isolated have a 28% higher chance of developing dementia.
Limited alcohol consumption and no smoking—People who never drink or only occasionally and never smoked show
slower rates of memory decline.
Signs of Dementia
While our brains are mostly set at birth, the ways that different parts
of the brain communicate with each other changes throughout our lives.
This accounts for increases and decreases in our cognitive abilities.
Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of conditions, such as Alzheimer's,
that results in decreased cognitive functions. When we forget where we
put our keys or can't remember where our glasses are—usually
on top of our heads—we shouldn't panic. Forgetfulness happens
at all ages. Research shows that even age-related dementia can be reversed
or stabalized with lifestyle changes
(as previously listed) and medication before it progresses.
Seeking early care, following healthy lifestyle habits and being aware
of environmental toxins increase chances of preserving our memory and
Risk Factors and Signs of Alzheimer's
The Alzheimer's Association defines the disease as a type of dementia
that affects memory, thinking and behavior. It affects 60–80% of
dementia patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), about 6 million Americans have Alzheimer's, the most common
type of dementia.
While the disease is progressive with no known cure, new advancements in
treatment and medication give hope to patients and their caregivers. The
biggest risk factor is age, as the disease typically affects people 65
years and older. However, younger early-onset Alzheimer's disease
affects much younger ages.
Other risk factors include:
- Family history
- Head injury
- Heart disease—overall heart health seems to protect brain health.
Discuss any concerns about possible memory loss with a healthcare provider
sooner rather than later.
The American Alzheimer's Association recommends being aware of these
early signs of Alzheimer's:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Changes in ability to plan or problem solve
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks
- Vision problems such as difficulty judging distance or determining colors
- Confusion with time or place; forgetting where we are or how we got there
- Struggling with words in conversation or writing
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Sudden changes in mood and personality
If you or someone you know displays any of these signs, confide in someone
you trust and see a doctor. The Alzheimer's Association also offers
a 24-hour helpline, 800-272-3900.
For more information contact Thibodaux Regional Neurology Clinic, 985.493.3090.