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Healthy Brain

Introduction

Aging is associated with progressive losses in function across multiple systems (sensation, cognition, memory, motor control and affect) and they occur with increasing age. Characteristics of brain aging are loss of brain volume (white matter > gray matter) especially in the hippocampus and frontal lobes; loss of myelin; synapses and the dendritic arbor; cytoskeletal changes (accumulation of neurofibrillary tangles and deposition of amyloids in brain and blood vessels). Infarcts of various sizes and other evidence of cerebrovascular disease.

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  • Cortex shrivels up, damaging areas involved in thinking, planning and remembering and other complex activities
  • Ventricles (fluid-filled spaces within the brain) grow larger
  • Shrinkage is especially severe in the hippocampus, an area of the cortex that plays a key role in formation of new memories
  • Changes in neurons and neurotransmitter
  • Changes in the brain’s blood vessels
  • Plaques and tangles develop outside of and inside neurons
  • Increase damage by free radicals increase in inflammation due to injury, disease, or abnormal situation

There are actions people can take to help preserve healthy brain aging. Fortunately, these actions also benefit a person’s overall health. They include:

  • Controlling risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes (keeping blood cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels and maintaining a healthy weight)
  • Enjoying regular exercise and physical activity
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits
  • Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities and maintaining close social ties with family, friends, and community.

Definition

A healthy brain defined as one that can perform all the mental processes that are collectively known as cognition, including the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language, and remembering1.

Importance

The lack of cognitive health—from mild cognitive decline to dementia—can have profound implications for an individual’s health and well-being. They may:

  • Be unable to care for themselves or conduct necessary activities of daily living, such as meal preparation and money management.
  • Have limitations with the ability to effectively manage medications and existing medical conditions.

If cognitive decline can be prevented or better treated, lives of many older adults can be improved, therefore maintaining cognitive health in the elderly population is vital to ensure healthy aging and good quality of life.

Methods

Road to Healthy Brain Aging:

  1. Preserve cognition (identify modifiable risk factors for Advanced Alzheimer)
  2. Improve physical functions (identify modifiable risk factors and make lifestyle changes)
  3. Improve social engagements
  4. Reduce Stress and reduce its risk factors

Lifestyle changes to Prevent AD and Promote Healthy Brain Aging:

  1. Nutrition/Diet
  2. Mediterranean Diet (Mostly Plants)

    High Consumption of:

    • Fruits (4-6 servings daily)
    • Berries (flavonoids, phytochemicals)
    • Vegetables (4-6 servings daily)
    • Beans (3-6 servings daily)
    • Nuts (3-5 pieces)
    • Whole grains (3-6 servings daily)
    • Olive oil (monounsaturated fatty acids)
    • Fish – broiled not fried!
    • Spices (turmeric, ginger, garlic)
    • Water (0.7-1.2L daily)

    Low Consumption of:

    • Dairy products
    • Red meat and poultry
    • Saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars
  3. Physical Activity
    • Study after study has demonstrated that staying physically active is one of the best ways to protect brain functions.  One year of aerobic exercise was sufficient to increase the hippocampal volume by 2% so it is never too late!
    • Mental activity is equally important to brain health. So exercise your brain! i.e. learn something new (language, game, music, instrument, dance, video games, computers.
  4. Social Activity
  5. Research has also shown that socially connected people are less likely to develop dementia than their isolated peers

  6. Spiritual Activity
  7. Religiosity & Spiritual Support

    • Religious participation enables elderly people to cope with and overcome emotional and physical problems more effectively, leading to a heightened sense of well-being in late adulthood
    • Meditation (Mindfulness, Transcendental)
    • Yoga, Tai-chi

    The exact mechanism is unclear. It is believed to developed positive emotions to stimulate the immune system due to the opportunities to better access to social and psychological resources.

  8. Control of Stress
  9. Humor/Attitude

References

  1. NIH Senior Health. Healthy Aging. Retrieved from: http://nihseniorhealth.gov/>
  2.  Miami Area Geriatric Education Centre. (2013). Evidenced-Based Approaches for Promoting Brain Health and Preventing AD. Retrieved from www.centeronaging.med.miami.edu/…/
  3. National Institute on Aging. Alzheimers. Retrieved from: www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers
Last Reviewed : 7 November 2016
Writer : Dr. Siti Aishah bt. Johari
Accreditor : Dr. Ruziaton bt. Hasim