Here are six things we can do:
- Eat well. Good nutrition is essential for brain health, as is maintaining a healthy weight. Neurologists advise us to eat plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats such as those found in fatty fish. We’re told to avoid trans fats, processed foods and added salt. These days, this can be a little harder. Many seniors admit they’re eating more processed foods and just plain junk food. We can still get fresh, healthy food through grocery delivery, takeout or delivery from restaurants, or delivered meal kits. Before you order, ask if nutritional information is available.
- Get enough exercise. Numerous studies have shown that our brains benefit from exercise just as much as the rest of our bodies. One study showed that seniors who exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week, reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment due to any reason by 60 percent. Research by the Department of Neurosurgery at UCLA showed that physical activity makes it easier for the brain to grow new connections between neurons. So make the effort. Go for a socially distanced walk. Work out to an exercise video. Lift hand weights while you watch TV or listen to music.
- Stay socially connected. This one is especially challenging in 2020—but so important, in two ways. Interacting with others helps build stronger connections in the brain, and the resilience to delay age-related memory problems. Spending time with others also combats loneliness, a condition that is so stressful for humans that it can damage the brain. Even as we’re socially distancing, we can connect with others. Stay in touch with video chatting, social media, frequent phone calls, and properly distanced in-person interactions as recommended by your local public health officials.
- Challenge your brain. Just as a couch potato lifestyle is bad for the brain, being a mental couch potato is bad, too. Boredom is stressful in itself. But stimulating the mind with new challenges encourages brain cells to grow, which may ward off dementia or slow the effects. Puzzles, reading and listening to music are all good brain exercise. And novelty—learning something new—is especially beneficial. Take an online class, or download a foreign language app. Take advantage of all this time at home to tackle a new computer technology. Stretch yourself mentally!
- Get enough sleep. We have learned so much about the connection between sleep and brain health over the past few decades. Sleep is the time when our brains file away memories for later use, and clean out waste material, as well. Poor quality sleep substantially raises the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But many people today report that they’re having trouble sleeping. They’re fretting—that’s to be expected! But they’re also keeping erratic hours as days and nights blend together. Experts say that cooped up at home, many of us are also drinking too much coffee. Practice good sleep hygiene, and if sleep problems persist, consult your doctor.
- Keep up your health care appointments. Things that we do for our body also benefit our minds. Health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and even gum disease are linked with dementia. Healthcare organizations report that these days, many patients are skipping their preventive care and avoiding doctor visits, even if they have troublesome symptoms. If you’ve missed a medical or dental appointment, contact your doctor now. Most likely you will be advised to keep up with your regular care. Your doctor’s office will be taking safety precautions, and you might even be able to make a telehealth appointment.