Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 17, 2014

The brain needs mental stimulation


The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — What was his name? Why did I come into this room? What was I doing?

Many of us have probably asked at least one of these questions recently.

As we deal with our daily responsibilities, we may also have trouble keeping track of and remembering everything that needs to be done.

Julie Ackley of Trilogy Health Services, Louisville, Ky., who deals with life enrichment support, presented "Keep Your Brain Healthy" Jan. 13 at the Southeastern Indiana YMCA. She offered tips on how to exercise this vital organ and keep it healthy.

"There are 100 billion neurons in the average brain, and 85,000 are lost every day. That's kind of scary when you think about all that brain power being lost, but you can build more .... You can also change your IQ. It is not predetermined from early childhood. You can always learn more," she said.

"Our brain health has become more and more a topic of discussion in the last five or 10 years. When Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it kind of woke people up."

Some of the 50 attendees wanted to know the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia. She explained, "Think of a big umbrella. That's dementia. Under it are many different kinds of it, including Alzheimer's."

Ackley announced, "In your 20s, the brain starts to lose some of its capacity. You are sharpest in your 20s, and then there's a gradual age-related decline. Because it's so gradual, you don't really notice it."

How can one determine if memory loss is age related or not? "If something is impeding or across multiple contexts and it is difficult to complete daily activities, then you want" to get checked by a health care professional to see if it is a form of dementia.

"With someone who has Alzheimer's, you will see short-term memory loss and will sometimes notice personality changes or loss of ambitions because the frontal lobe (of the brain) is diseased." That is the part "that controls impulses and may cause persons to act out more or have difficulty finding words.

"Your greatest risk factor is age .... If you have a close relative that has it, you have an increased risk, but it doesn't mean you're going to get Alzheimer's."

The speaker emphasized, "There are five domains of our lives we can focus on to preserve brain health.

"Socialization is critical. As they get older, some folks tend to isolate themselves, but it's critical to have that social interaction. It's a form of stimulation .... It doesn't have to be with your peers. Some of you have grandchildren and great-grandchildren you can be with .... Join a church group, reading club or book club. If you retire, keep active.

"Spirituality is critical as well .... Meditate, pray, give yourself some down time. Having that ability to calm yourself gives you time to focus. I like to journal. Have a plain book where you can write your thoughts down. Also, be forgiving because it takes so much energy to stay mad at someone."

Physical activity is also important. "Keep busy with housework, gardening or challenge yourself to walk a lot," she noted.

Regarding nutrition, "the closer you get to the earth, the better. You want to eat leafy greens, kale, red peppers, blueberries. You can't go wrong with fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it's just easier to pick something up, but remember, the less processed, the better and keep in mind moderation .... Research is finding out more and more that omega-3, fish oils and nuts are things your brain does need."

Mental stimulation is vital, too, Ackley pointed out. "Step out of your comfort zone. Ask a grandchild about an iPad, open an e-mail account, learn a new language or a new skill, listen to music, start up a skill again that you haven't done for a while .... See what people around you are doing. The process of learning and teaching someone is mental stimulation."

Persons can also read or do crossword puzzles or sudoku. There are also Web sites (Luminosity, Play With Your Mind, Happy Neuron, MyBrainTrainer.com, Braingle, Queendom and Brainbuilder.com), some free, with games and activities to exercise the brain.

"If you're not taking care of your body, you're probably not taking care of your brain .... If you have more stimulations in your brain, that's what staves off dementia .... Also, get proper sleep and rest. There is evidence that people who aren't getting that rejuvenating rest at night may have a higher chance of getting Alzheimer's," she added.

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.