The front page of the Globe and Mail on September 16, 2010 announced, “Dementia: Confronting the crisis - Every five minutes, another Canadian faces life robbed of memories, skills, relationships and independence.”
“More senior citizens are in Canada’s future, and more of them will be living longer. Dementia will loom increasingly large. Already there are 100,000 new cases each year, and rising. An estimated 1.1 million Canadians will suffer from dementia in 2038, up from 480,000 now. The direct costs of caring for them today are $8-billion a year; between now and 2038, the total spent directly on care will be $92-billion. The loss of an individual’s ability to contribute to herself, her family and society is, on a community-wide scale, impossible to calculate.” (Globe and Mail, September 18, 2010)
Most of us have been taught that how well we function mentally is a characteristic that we’re born with and that we can’t do much about. Happily that’s far from true! There is just as much we can do to improve and protect our cognitive functioning as there is to prevent something like heart disease. In fact, many steps we can take to prevent heart disease will also prevent a decline in mental functioning as we age.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a number of specific diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Dementia can be defined as a persistent decline in intellectual function, and it involves problems with memory, problem solving and learning. It is characterized by short-term memory loss, the inability to complete everyday simple tasks, confusion, impaired judgment (such as walking into traffic), and getting lost in familiar places. Early stage dementia can be minor; late stage dementia is debilitating and can be fatal. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in Canada, making up about two thirds of all existing (prevalent) cases. Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia; it accounts for about one sixth of all cases. About half of those with dementia live in the community, and half live in long term care facilities (generally the more severe cases).
Researchers are finding that factors early in life and in mid-life affect our risk of dementia, e.g. a greater number of years of education reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand improvements in health and reduced risk are seen no matter when a healthy behavior is adopted.
- Fun and Laughter - Enjoyment and laughter help release endorphins in the brain and elevate mood, as well as improving the immune system and opening blood vessels in the brain.
- Relaxation, meditation and prayer reduce stress which shrinks the frontal cortex and hippocampus, the areas of the brain associated with memory, attention, emotion and thought.
- Music therapy – Studies have shown that listening to Mozart’s slower pieces helps the brain to focus and increases attention span.
- Sleep – The sleep deprived person can’t learn as well as one who has had enough sleep. Researchers also believe that sleep assists in strengthening what has been learned. Chronic sleep deprivation affects mood, memory, concentration, ability to solve problems and ability to make good decisions.
- Physical exercise – With exercise, we keep on creating new brain cells throughout our lives. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain. Older people who exercise have a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
- Mediterranean diet – Consume:
- Fruits, vegetables, mostly whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices on a daily basis.
- Fish and seafood, poultry, eggs, cheese, yogurt – a couple of times a week.
- Meat and sweets – a couple of times a month.
- Omega-3s help retain myelin brain tissue.
- Hydration – Drink at least six 8 ounce glasses of water daily (preferably 8) to help flush toxins from the body. The brain is over 75% water. Some of the symptoms of dehydration of the brain include dizziness, fatigue, headaches and the ability to concentrate. Myelin (a brain tissue) is easily destroyed by a build-up of toxins.
- Brain exercises and art therapy – Brain exercises (e.g. crossword puzzles) and art are recommended to stimulate both sides of the brain. Other good activities include taking classes, gardening, volunteering, other puzzles, learning a language, playing cards and reading.
- Kindness – Simple acts of kindness improve one’s mental outlook and disposition. And they are often reciprocated. Examples include volunteering your time, walking your neighbour’s dog, visiting someone at a seniors’ residence, making a donation to your favourite charity.
- Brisk walking can rebuild your brain.Until recently it was believed that the brain shrinking with age, with resulting cognitive decline, were inevitable, and that the brain couldn’t grow new neurons. Now we know that aerobic exercise can actually reverse brain shrinkage, and the natural wear and tear that occurs by mid-life. As little as 3 hours a week of brisk walking can reverse brain deterioration due to aging. It has been found that the greatest gains from aerobic exercise occur in the pre-frontal and temporal cortices of the brain – these areas are responsible for memory and information processing that are especially prone to age-related deterioration.Pick activities you enjoy. You’ll look forward to them
- The DASH diet, originally developed to fight high blood pressure, is much like the Mediterranean diet, with similar emphasis on fruits, vegetables and grains, and restrictions on meat, saturated fat, sweets and salt. It too has been shown to help keep the brain sharp.
- A number of dietary components are helpful:
- Omega-3 has shown promising results in reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia; it also helps promote heart health, and can be recommended on that basis as well (See Newsletters, April 2009 and February 2010).
- Dietary flavonoids found in some fruits and vegetables as well as coffee, tea and chocolate may help keep your brain sharp according to a study conducted in France. Green Zone is high in flavonoids.
- B vitamins, especially B12, have been linked with better mental functioning and less brain shrinkage.
- Ginkgo biloba has long been known as a “memory herb” and has been shown to work in 3 ways:
- by increasing blood flow to the brain
- by its antioxidant properties, it strengthens the brain
- by increasing neurotransmission (the ability of the brain to communicate internally).
- Focus Attention (a Nature’s Sunshine product) provides important nutrients recognized for their effects on optimal brain and nervous system function, as well as their protective benefits against free radical damage. Focus Attention is a safe and natural dietary supplement that can be taken both adults and children to enhance memory, mental focus, clarity of thinking and overall learning ability
- Lecithin helps rebuild brain cells and increase brain function, being an essential part of nerve transmission and neurotransmitter production. A group of researchers in London conducted a 6-month study on the effects of lecithin in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Participants fed large amounts of lecithin showed improvement in some mental functions and also in the ability to care for themselves. Interestingly, Dr. Richard Wurtman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims levels of choline, a neurotransmitter derived from lecithin, are reduced by up to 90% in Alzheimer’s patients, thus accounting for their loss of memory.
- Avoid stress - Too much stress can make you forgetful and also make you age faster. This is due to the activation of an enzyme in the brain called protein kinase C (PKC). This enzyme affects the pre-frontal cortex that regulates thought, behavior and emotion. Too much PKC can impair ability to concentrate, leading to distractibility, impaired judgment, impulsivity and thought disorder. A sense of events being beyond your control is key to the stress effect on your brain. Stress also leads to high levels of oxidative stress that can speed up aging at the cellular level. Healthy ways of managing stress are key to avoiding these problems. Stress Formula from Nature’s Sunshine is an excellent combination for helping the body cope with stress.
- Good cholesterol (HDL) has been linked to better memory.
Canadians must learn to keep their brains in good health. Delaying the onset of dementia by 2 years would reduce the number of cases by 36 percent (due to competing causes of mortality). Delaying it by 10 years would essentially solve the problem. In summary, you need to maintain a regular exercise routine, eat a healthy diet, and be engaged in socially and mentally stimulating activities. Paying particular attention to your heart health, by limiting salt intake to control blood pressure, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, a healthy weight and not smoking, will also help you avoid vascular dementia.
For additional information, please email email@example.com; or call Ramilas Healing Arts Clinic at 613.829.0427 for an appointment. Please continue sharing our newsletters with friends and family.
The suggestions and recommendations in this newsletter are not intended to be prescriptive or diagnostic. The information is accurate and up to date to our knowledge, but we are not responsible for any errors in our sources of information.
- Kick at the darkness (editorial). The Globe and Mail, September 18, 2010.
- What does aging mean to you? Partners – The Aim Newsmagazine, February 1998, 12-14.
- Lindsay J, Sykes E, McDowell I, et al. More than the epidemiology of Alzheimer’s disease: contributions of the Canadian Study of Health and Aging. Can J Psychiatry 2004;49:83-91.
- Hébert R, Lindsay J, Verreault R et al. Vascular dementia incidence and risk factors in the Canadian Study of Health and Aging. Stroke 2000;31:1487-1493.
- Arnold Bresky. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Bresky. Accessed September 15, 2010.
- Bresky A. Brain Tune Up – Guide to Caring for Yourself. USA: A & B Publishing, 2009.
- Scarmeas N, Luchsinger JA, Schupf N et al. Physical activity, diet and risk of Alzheimer disease. JAMA 2009;302:627-637.
- Lifestyle and diet choices can help keep your brain sharp. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2009;27(8):1-2.
- Brisk walking can rebuild your brain. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2007;25(1):1-2.
- Fish, omega-3s show promise as early dementia defense. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2008;25(11):1-2.
- Letenneur L, Proust-Lima C, Le Gouge A, et al. Flavonoid intake and cognitive decline over a 10-year period. Am J Epidemiol 2007;165:1364-1371.
- Vitamin B12 could help protect your brain against shrinking as you age. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2008;26(10):1-2.
- Folate and other B vitamins may fight mental decline with aging. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2005;23(10):6.
- Ginkgo and the brain. Partners - The Aim Newsmagazine, June 1999, 8-9.
- Herb Allure, Inc., Nature’s Sunshine © 2001
- How stress can make you forgetful, age faster. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2005;22(12):1,3.
- Good cholesterol linked to better memory. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter 2008;26(8):1-2.
- Picard A. Why Canada needs a national strategy on dementia. The Globe and Mail, September 18, 2010.
These newsletters will help you make better choices for better health. The choices that you make today can either have a positive or negative impact on your overall health. Begin by choosing better. It is a step toward longevity.
Ramilas Healing Arts Clinic