Act NOW to Avoid Brain Decline

This appeared article appeared in the Pittsburgh 55+ Magazine Fall 2020

By Joseph C. Maroon, MD. FACS

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and age-related dementia are associated with progressive impairment of cognitive function. And with more than 50 million Americans ages 65 and older, both present a significant health challenge for our nation. The majority of those over 65 with Alzheimer’s disease have not genetic cause. There is a link, however, between having a specific gene and the protein called apolipoprotein-4 (ApoE4) that increases your risk of developing late-onset AD by a factor of 2 or 3. Fortunately, this can be tested for before AD may or may not occur.

No Drug Treatments for AD – What YOU can do to Help!
Presently, there are no effective drug therapies to prevent or significantly treat these diseases of the aging brain. For the most part those with an APOE4 risk or even without a genetic risk, lifestyle factors are the most proven method for brain preservation as we age. I am convinced, that the brain’s neuroplasticity, the ability of nerve cells in the brain to adapt and change over time, can help maintain and even enhance our cognitive function at almost any age.

List of Brain Decline Risk Factors you can Change:

  • Untreated depression
  • Poorly controlled Diabetes
  • Head injuries
  • High alcohol consumption
  • Poorly controlled High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive Air Pollution
  • Lack of Mental Stimulation
  • Obesity and lack of physical activity
  • Poor diet
  • Smoking
  • Social isolation

How to Boost your Brain
Try a Mediterranean diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, along with healthy proteins and fats such as fish and olive oil. Minimize refined sugars and processed foods. Exercise is the most effective way to increase brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This growth factor is like “Miracle Gro” for the brain. BDNF increases the formation of new brain cells and aids neuroplasticity. Daily physical exercise increases brain blood flow and over time increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain region that forms and solidifies memories. Actively work to reduce stress. Chronic stress destroys brain cells. Try daily meditation, prayer, yoga, and other methods to control stress. Get enough rest. Adequate rest and sleep are essential for keeping the brain sharp. Sleep allows the brain to clear out waste and organize memories. A good night’s sleep lowers brain inflammation, enhances the production of hormones in the brain and improves mental focus. Set a regular bedtime, avoid using a computer or watching TV just before going to bed, and use guided meditations to help you fall asleep. Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, socialize by being outdoors, connecting by phone, or other electronic means is critical to reducing stress and keeping your brain engaged. There is strong evidence that consistent relationships with family and friends pave the way for a more resilient brain. Finally, it is well recognized that excessive toxins like alcohol, smoking, pollution, and various types of mood-altering drugs, can have deleterious effects on brain function. The point is you have the power to make a difference in your brain health. Use it or lose it!