Healthy Brain Aging—Part 2

Healthy Brain Aging—Part 2

In Part 1 of Healthy Brain Aging, I shared material from Glenn Smith, Ph.D. of the University of Florida, who wrote the lead article in the May-June 2016 issue of American Psychologist. His article entitled, Healthy Cognitive Aging and Dementia Prevention will continue to be the basis of the Part 2 in this series.

In Part 1 we looked at the high numbers of dementia cases and the costs of those cases in America. We also noted the so-called Dementia Continuum, noting that dementia is not a black/white or have it/don’t have it phenomena.

Primary Prevention

Currently I would like to discus how brain health actually begins before birth and continues to be develop in childhood. As Dr. Smith reminds us, there are three factors: 1. Low birth weight is correlated with a greater risk for poorer cognitive functioning in adulthood. 2. Conversely, higher literacy and early educational enrichment are associated with higher cognitive performance. 3. The more complex our occupation is in midlife, the greater the chance that our brains will “not be simple” either.

Therefore as Dr. Smith states: Thus, population wide interventions to improve perinatal health, education for all, and access to quality challenging employment are in fact, dementia prevention strategies.

“Primary prevention” in dementia involves lifestyle changes that improve overall health. As an example Barns & Yaffe in 2011 postulated that a combined 25% reduction in midlife diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and physical and cognitive inactivity could potentially prevent 500, 000 cases of dementia in the U.S. alone.

Likewise, when interventions involving just cognitive and physical exercise occurred jointly, researchers have found nearly identical results as those above in older adults. “Brain fitness” interventions seem to have a surprisingly long-lasting effect. Physical exercise enhances the growth of new brain cells, essential for learning and memory.

Other approaches including: socialization, good sleep, good nutrition, and meditation can promote healthy cognitive aging and cognitive resilience to brain changes in those with “preclinical states disease states” (see “Part 1” article).

Through their research Dodge, Chang, et al (2011) found that dementia could be reduced by more than 10% by “eliminating overt cerebrovascular disease (CVD)”. In the same light, vascular (cardiac) risk factors increase the risk for vascular dementia.

The really good news is that risk factors for CVD are among the most responsive to modification and effective treatment. Or as Dr. Smith states: There are a whole host of lifestyle (diet and obesity, physical activity, mental activities, alcohol and drug intake, smoking and social supports), mood, and physiological (blood pressure, lipids, inflammation, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes) factors that impact vascular-related cognitive improvements and are amenable to treatment. In other words, for those willing to work for it…most are not doomed.

In the Healthy Brain Aging –Part 3 we will take a look at some interventions for Preclinical States and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Please stay tuned…and in the mean time get out and walk.

Tim Berry

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