We all have parents and grandparents whom we adore. It’s at their knee that some of our most treasured childhood memories were formed. They’ve been there for us when we needed them most, with sagely advice or just a shoulder to cry on. They were there to share in the agony of that first big heartbreak, they were the first to share our joy when our own kids were born. They put bandages on our scraped knees, they packed our lunches and filled our lives with so many small but infinitely meaningful acts of kindness that we genuinely don’t know what we’d do or who we’d be without them.
Sure, the road has been rough at times, and maybe we weren’t always on the best of terms with them, but their unwavering love and support has been our guiding light and we’ve done our best to incorporate the best of what they taught us into our own parenting and our day-to-day lives.
Thus, it can be utterly devastating when we lose that person. Losing them to sudden and unexpected illness is bad enough, but those with relatives who’ve suffered from Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia know the uniquely terrible form of heartbreak these afflictions represent.
Seeing that special person slowly erode, seeing the recognition in their eyes fade when we walk through the door, seeing them grow angry and frustrated at themselves and the world around them, and eventually knowing that our own care isn’t enough and we must entrust our beloved relative to an expert like Parc Provence, it can be a heartache that you wouldn’t want to wish on your worst enemy, let alone your own kids.
Whether you know someone who’s been affected by dementia or not it’s perfectly understandable that you’d want to ensure that you live to a ripe old age with good brain health. While dementia can technically strike at any age, it’s no secret that our risk factor increases when we get older. However, even if there is a history of dementia in your family, by no means is it an inevitability.
Making some simple and effective lifestyle choices can facilitate great brain health and keep dementia at bay. Here we’ll go over some that will not only keep your brain healthy, but lead to optimal overall health.
The evidence is increasingly mounting up to show that not only can a whole foods, plant-based diet be a great way to lose weight, it can also help to prevent a whole range of serious illnesses. Vegans tend to eat much fewer processed foods and a whole lot less saturated fat than their omnivorous friends and they steer well clear of processed meats like ham, bacon and pepperoni which have been identified as type 1 carcinogens (which is the same category as cigarettes).
Thus, vegans are at a greatly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and many cancers but they also have a significantly reduced risk of dementia, too. This is because they eschew fatty, salty processed foods that lead not only to cardiovascular disease but to vascular damage in the brain which can cause dementia.
The caveat, however, is that if you convert from an omnivorous diet to a vegan diet you will likely start by leaning heavily on processed vegan meat substitutes to ease the transition. While these are absolutely fine for a treat, they are still processed foods and while less harmful than bacon or pepperoni they should not be consumed on a daily basis.
Of course, if you couldn’t commit to going full vegan, there’s absolutely no excuse not to up your intake of fresh veggies and fruits. Leafy greens, dark berries, walnuts and colorful veggies have been found to be amongst the best foods for brain health.
As if you needed one more reason to get yourself to the gym. I can hear the excuses now! Of course, you’re busy, of course you have an active lifestyle, of course it’s hard to stick to your gym appointments. However, you don’t need to reduce yourself to a sweaty, quivering wreck four times a week to reap the brain health benefits. Physical activity (even if it’s fairly moderate) has been proven to help even those in the later stages of dementia.
Physical exercise obviously has a range of mental health benefits, boosting endorphins, dopamine and serotonin levels to reduce the risk of anxiety and stress which can increase your risk of dementia. More importantly, however, regular exercise prevents the production excessive amounts of choline. This metabolite often arises in profuse concentrations of nerve cell loss which is common for those with Alzheimer’s.
Learn a language or a musical instrument
Forget those brain training video games or Sudoku, the evidence shows that the best brain exercises to keep dementia at bay are learning the complexities of a new language or picking up a new musical instrument. Learning a language stimulates parts of the brain that are long left unused.
In the same way that unfamiliar forms of physical exercise tend to result in the best gains, so too does unfamiliar brain stimulation in the form of learning a new language or playing a new instrument helps to keep your brain on its toes. It’s brain stimulation, not training that’s proven to be useful in the battle against dementia. Trade in your crossword for a cello or your Sudoku for Swahili and you’ll ensure a healthy and agile brain long into old age.
And of course… quit cigarettes
While our grandparents grew up in an era where smoking was normalized, and people were oblivious to the enormous health risks (indeed there were some cigarettes that were even branded as healthy and medically tested). In the 21st century, however, nobody needs the health dangers of cigarettes explained to them. Besides the risk of cancer and heart disease, smoking is proven to be a major contributing factor in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Whatever your age and general health, it’s never too late or too early to start making the changes that will keep dementia at bay for the rest of your life.