Seniors Digest
Seattle-King County Edition
  August 1, 2004 

Good Things to Do for Your Brain


Memory and intelligence are in part hereditary (in other words, it's in your genes)...but many other factors enter in. Here are some ways to give your brain a boost!

Exercise your brain Using our mind and senses stimulates the growth of new brain cells, and encourages new connections between cells that help our brains work more efficiently. Remember that actual physical changes occur in the brain when we process information. Many researchers believe that a variety of input is important for efficient use all your senses, do something you've never done before, and do familiar things in a different way. Take a different route than you usually do...learn a new language...pick up a new skill. This holds true for every age...proving that being a "lifelong learner" helps keep those neurons growing!

Exercise your body Physical activity is one of the most important things an older adult can do to remain mentally sharp. Exercise increases blood supply to the brain, and stimulates the production of substances that protect it. Ask your healthcare provider about beginning an exercise program that's right for you. And remember that activities that make you think while you're exercising serve "double duty."

Train your memory There are plenty of skills and techniques to help your memory "file" material you wish to recall. Writing things down, speaking them aloud, using post-it notes, "making a mental note" and other memory-enhancement techniques can all be good strategies.

Keep a positive attitude Stress and negativity increase the levels of chemicals that can have an adverse effect on the brain. Speak to your healthcare provider if you feel this might be an issue for you.

Practice good nutrition Eating a "brain-smart" diet is also important. Avoid saturated fats, which are associated with stroke and heart disease, and other conditions that can also negatively affect the brain.

Get enough sleep The brain "recharges" during sleep. You probably know that we learn and perform best after a good night's sleep, but you might be surprised to know that sleep is also necessary to "encode" memories from the previous lack of sleep can be a big culprit in memory problems.

Wear your seatbelt In case of an accident, buckling up can decrease your chance of suffering traumatic head injury.

Schedule regular vision and hearing tests It's important to protect your senses, and to be fitted with visual and hearing aids when necessary. The better you can take in information through the senses, the better you can receive information and interpret the world around you.

Avoid excessive use of alcohol Alcohol can cause sleep problems, vitamin deficiencies, and memory and cognitive problems. Alcohol is toxic to the brain in excessive quantity.

Medications Be alert to the side effects (such as drowsiness or confusion) of the medications (or combinations of medications) you take. Make sure your healthcare provider knows about all drugs you take. This applies to both prescription and over-the-counter.

Be alert for symptoms of depression Depression causes a decrease in mental activity, and can actually mimic the symptoms of dementia.

Each person ages in his or her own way. For some people, unfortunately, diseases and conditions that affect brain function may cause a loss in mental acuity. The goal then is to provide treatment that allows the highest degree of function and comfort possible for each individual.

But remember: for most of us, mental sharpness can be influenced by how well we care for our minds. When it comes to exercising your brain, "use it or lose it" could not be more true!

For more information...

The Mayo Clinic's Senior Health Center website features articles and exercises for staying mentally sharp.

2004 Caresource Healthcare Communications

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