The one thing many people dread more than cancer or physical disability is the thought of losing their memory.
Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of conditions associated with memory loss and cognitive decline.
In Australia, a new diagnosis is made every six minutes with over 350,000 Australians currently living with dementia.
So, what can you do to minimise your risk?
Brain fitness doctor and best-selling author of Future Brain, Dr Jenny Brockis, outlines seven key precautions:
1. Refuel smart
Our choice of food influences our mood, memory and cognition. The MIND diet devised by Martha Clare Morris and her team at Rush University identified 10 foods based on scientific research that support better cognitive function and 5 to eat less of. Initial studies that require confirmation suggest that following this diet is associated with a reduction of risk of Alzheimer’s Disease by up to 53%.
2. Move it
The single most effective management for dementia prevention is the one that is readily available to everyone and doesn’t have to cost a cent. Thirty minutes of daily aerobic exercise, the huffy puffy sort that gets up a bit of a sweat primes the brain for better performance, cognition and mood. Even if you hate exercise going for a daily walk will help keep your brain in good shape.
3. Sleep tight
Lack of sleep is well recognised as a cause of daily fatigue, poor concentration, reduced mental performance and irritability. It is also associated with an elevated risk of cognitive decline. Getting 7-8 hours of good quality uninterrupted sleep every night topped up if needed with a power nap during the day is what counts.
4. Stress less and laugh more
Long-term chronic stress is associated with elevated cortisol levels, brain inflammation, depression and loss of brain volume. Practicing some form of daily stress reliever whether as exercise, being in a green space, practicing mindfulness, Tai Chi or Yoga, or sharing a laugh can help alleviate stress and enhance attention, creativity and mental wellbeing.
5. Stretch that mental muscle
Our brain ‘s plasticity diminishes with age but is not lost. Look for opportunities to learn something new, especially something creative such as painting or dancing that confers a degree of neuroprotection. Learning a new musical instrument helps prevent decay in speech listening skills and boosts comprehension. Online or offline the main thing about cognitive training is to have fun!
6. Stay in touch
Loneliness is a killer and has been shown to alter brain structure making us more anti-social, and diminishes physical and cognitive wellbeing. Staying connected with others preferably face-to-face is essential to better brain health. Sign up as a volunteer or join a group-based activity. Singing boosts mood, social connectedness working memory and general cognition.
7. Manage your general health
Going a regular health check up is a great way to help keep a healthy weight, normal blood pressure and blood sugar. Seek help if you are struggling with sleep disturbance, anxiety or low mood. And if you needed an extra reason to quit the smokes – do it to retain your brain.