ALBUQUERQUE ― The New Mexico Department of Health, Public Health Division and the Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter have announced they are collaborating to educate New Mexicans on maintaining a healthy brain.
The Alzheimer’s Association, NM Chapter and the NM Department of Health, now agree that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by making key lifestyle changes.
“The research on cognitive decline with aging, and how it relates to Alzheimer’s Disease, is ongoing. But we have enough data now to know that there are choices people can make, and can take now, before decline sets in,” says Janice Knoefel, MD, Clinical Director of the University of New Mexico Memory & Aging Center. “Healthy behaviors known to combat heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes also reduce the risk of cognitive decline with aging. These same healthy lifestyle choices may prevent Alzheimer’s disease, or delay onset of symptoms to later in life.”
The conclusion that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by maintaining healthy lifestyle habits is also supported in the research summary, Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association**.
“We know that adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits will improve your health as you age,” says Barbara Howe, Deputy Director, Public Health Division, New Mexico Department of Health. “And now we are learning these same activities can help protect your brain as well as your heart.”
“We are encouraged by the growing evidence that indicates people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits,” says Gary L. J. Girón, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter, “And we are especially pleased to be partnering with the NM Department of Health, Public Health Division in sharing these lifestyle tips with the public.”
The agencies have collaborated to unveil a list of several key lifestyle changes and health tips, called 10 Ways to Love Your Brain. These habits, spanning four categories — physical health and exercise, diet and nutrition, cognitive activity, and social engagement — can help keep the body and brain healthy and potentially reduce risk of cognitive decline.
“These behaviors include staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity and eating a heart-healthy diet that benefits your body and your brain, “ says Dr. Knoefel. “Stopping smoking is one of the most beneficial, and immediately beneficial, changes a person can make. There is also evidence people may benefit from staying socially engaged with friends, family and the community.”
“We recommend that people combine these healthy habits, when possible, to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body,” Howe said. “And we also stress starting as soon as possible. It’s never too late or too early to incorporate healthy habits.”
The list of 10 Ways to Love Your Brain, tips that may reduce the risk of cognitive decline, are:
1. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heartrate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found anassociation between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
2. Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
3. Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
4. Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke– obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
5. Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
6. Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.
7. Catch some Zzz’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
8. Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of dementia, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
9. Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community– if you loveanimals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an afterschool program. Or, just share activities with friends and family.
10. Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.
Cognitive decline is a deterioration in memory or cognition. Although some cognitive decline is expected with age, it is not yet known how this may directly relate to dementia.
The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing – and growing fast. Today, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including an estimated 200,000 under the age of 65. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, and nearly two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s disease – 3.3 million – are women. Nearly one in every three seniors who dies each year has Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. In 2050, someone in the United States will develop the disease every 33 seconds. By that same year, up to 16 million Americans will have the disease.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
The growing Alzheimer’s crisis is helping to bankrupt Medicare. In 2016, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s will total an estimated $236 billion, with just under half of the costs borne by Medicare. This cost is projected to increase to $1.1 trillion (in today’s dollars) by 2050.
Alzheimer’s takes a devastating toll – not just on those with the disease, but on entire families. In our own state, 37,000 New Mexicans are suffering from Alzheimer’s. They are cared for by 106,000 unpaid caregivers, many of whom are members of their own families.
The Alzheimer’s Association, New Mexico Chapter offers free classes to caregivers and families facing the disease. Call 505.266.4473 or the 24/7 Helpline at 1.800.272.3900, for more information.