Mental Health Article:

Food for thought: Good health starts with your brain

by Pam McGaffin

We all want to keep our minds sharp as we age - older adults fear Alzheimer's disease more than cancer - but we also tend to forget that our brains need exercise and proper nutrition to stay fit just like the rest of us.

So that spinach salad, besides being good for your waistline, is literally food for thought as well, says the Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of 40 Puget Sound-area organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults.

An estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, and that number is expected to grow as the first baby boomers begin to turn 65, according to the National Alzheimer's Association. Currently, those aged 85 and older have a 50/50 chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

Given the odds, it’s not surprising that Americans age 55 and older fear Alzheimer's more than other diseases, including cancer, according to a MetLife Foundation survey last year.

The good news is that the lifestyle choices you make now can improve your brain health and lower your risk for dementia, says Dr. Jane Tornatore, family care consultant with the Alzheimer's Association, Western and Central Washington State Chapter. “Even a simple mental exercise like driving a different route home helps to create new brain pathways,” she says.

Here are some other tips from Tornatore and the Healthy Aging Partnership:

  • Feed your brain: Eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet rich in antioxidants; vitamins E, C and B-12; folate; and omega-3 fatty acids. That means plenty of dark-colored vegetables and fruits (including kale, spinach, broccoli, beets, red bell peppers, tomatoes and berries); cold-water fish (including halibut, mackerel and salmon); and nuts (including almonds, pecans and walnuts).
  • Exercise your body: Physical exercise - even something as low-key as a daily 30-minute walk - promotes blood flow and new brain cells.
  • Exercise your brain: Mental exercises - reading, writing, games and puzzles - build up brain-cell reserves and connections.
  • Check those numbers: Keep your body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood-sugar levels within recommended ranges.
  • Cut out bad fat: Foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol have been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's. Use mono- and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and try baking or grilling instead of frying.
  • Socialize: Research shows that those who regularly interact with other people, particularly during activities that also involve mental and physical exercise, lower their risk of dementia. So join that bridge or book club, take that dance lesson or volunteer for that charity.
  • Protect your head: Head injuries have been linked to an increased risk for later Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Always use your seatbelt while riding in a car and a helmet while riding a bicycle, skating, etc. Make changes around the house to prevent falls.
  • Manage your meds: Check with your doctor and/or pharmacist if a new medication doesn't feel right or if you are concerned about the interaction of multiple medications.
  • Break habits: Try something new. Walk a different path. Eat or brush your teeth using your non-dominant hand. All create new brain pathways, and the more you have the better.

For more information about brain health and other issues related to life as an older adult, call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464).

To learn more about HAP and its partner agencies, visit the Web site at www.4elders.org.