The brain controls almost all of our body functions from our breathing and emotions to our thoughts and our memories. So, it makes sense to take good care of it.
But as we age, several changes occur which make it more challenging to take care of our brain including a lack of mobility and exercise, changes to diet, medication and even our motivation.
More than two thirds of aged care residents have moderate to severe cognitive impairment while more than 400,000 Australians are living with dementia, a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. The most common forms of dementia being Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia and Lewy body disease, according to Dementia Australia.
With the risk of dementia increasing with age, it’s even more important to prioritise our brain health and reduce our risk for cognitive decline.
We caught up with Adventist Aged Care Physiotherapist Neil Aspa and retired GP Dr Robert Florida, who was involved with Adventist Aged Care Sydney for more than three decades, to gain their insights and tips to keep our brains healthy.
Here are their top five tips.
- Boost blood flow
The health of the brain relies on the health of the heart, so what is good for your heart is good for your brain, according to Neil. A key part of his role as a physiotherapist is to ensure residents have a healthy heart for good blood flow. “We know the blood contains all the nutrients that keep your brain healthy and the brain controls 95% of your body functions,” Mr Aspa says. He says it’s crucial to boost blood flow to the brain by taking part in regular physical activity.
- Stay social
Social interaction should be a high priority to keep your brain healthy, according to Dr Robert Florida. “Having personal support is very important, even in people with severe dementia. They’re often forgotten about,” Dr Florida says. He says the team at Adventist Aged Care plays a crucial role in providing positive social interactions for residents, particularly when relatives might be unable to visit. “That’s the important thing about having common meeting rooms, you’ll see people sitting there and it’s amazing what they come out with. Everybody has a story, and sometimes they can even defuse severe dementia and be quite humorous at times.”
- Do brain exercises
Exercises which get the brain thinking are another great way to take care of your brain health particularly when mobility is a challenge. Dr Florida recommends crosswords, word search puzzles and Sudoku to give your brain a workout. “I must admit that I have a mathematical bend and I get locked into the hardest Sudoku I can find. But it’s not as good as crossword puzzles. Some people think with words, some people think with pictures.” Jigsaw puzzles have also been shown to combat cognitive decline and strengthen short-term memory.
- Learn something new
In addition to crosswords and Sudoku, learning a new skill is another way to strengthen your neural pathways for a healthier brain, according to Dr Florida. “You want to keep neuro pathways going and you want to develop them, so your neural pathways are strengthened over time,” Dr Florida says. Scientists now know the brain is not fixed as was once thought but can create new neural pathways to adapt to its changing needs. This ability is known as neuroplasticity, which was put in the spotlight by psychiatrist Dr Norman Doidge in his bestselling book The Brain That Changes Itself. With reading another way to keep our brains active, this is one book we recommend adding to your bedside table.
- Eat a balanced diet
Eating a healthy balanced diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids may further help to protect the brain from cognitive decline, according to the World Health Organisation. Dr Florida said poor diet, drinking excessive alcohol and smoking are all bad for the vascular system, which is responsible for circulating blood around the body. It’s recommended to avoid high-fat and high salt according to Dementia Australia.
Foods that could reduce the risk of dementia include fruit and vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil.
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To find out more about Adventist Aged Care including Residential Aged Care or Independent Living, or to arrange a tour of our facilities, contact our friendly staff by calling 02 8834 6100 for Kings Langley or 9487 0600 for Wahroonga sites, or visit our website.