AHS Weekly Wellness: Healthy Brains Linked to Healthy Lives

As we get older, our minds can stall and lapse. You might wonder if this is a “senior moment” or the early signs of dementia. While dementia is more common as we age, it is not part of normal aging.

MyHealth Alberta describes dementia as a loss of mental skills—such as memory, problem-solving, and learning—that’s bad enough to interfere with your daily life. It usually gets worse over time.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, there are some changes in a person you may witness as Alzheimer’s progresses such as:

Cognitive and functional abilities: a person’s ability to understand, think, remember and communicate;

Emotions and moods: a person may appear apathetic and lose interest in favourite hobbies or become withdrawn;

Behaviour: reactions seem out of character. Some common reactions include repeating the same action or words, hiding possessions, physical outbursts and restlessness;

Physical abilities: the disease can affect a person’s coordination and mobility, to the point of affecting their ability to perform day-to-day tasks such as eating, bathing and getting dressed.

The brain’s development begins well before you are born and never stops. Healthy brain development while you are younger can reduce the risk of dementia later in life. A strong foundation increases the chances of living a longer, happier and more independent life; whereas a weak foundation increases the risks of developing dementia.

Some factors that can reduce risk include controlling the use of drugs and alcohol, protecting your head from injury when doing activities such as cycling and skiing by wearing a helmet and continuing to strengthen your brain through education opportunities.

What is good for your heart is also good for your brain. Whether it be walking, jogging, swimming or yoga, if it gets your heart pumping and your blood moving, it can help your brain stay healthy. One theory is that the increased blood flow to the brain due to exercise helps increase thinking and memory skills, and could protect against dementia, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

Coping with stress and maintaining good mental health are also important as are keeping in touch with friends and family and doing activities you like. Remembering and thinking, whether through board or card games or attending lectures or courses, preserve brain function.

Remember, it’s never too late to start to improve your brain’s health.