Brain health includes the ability to learn, remember, plan and focus in order to help us get through activities needed on a daily basis and to be prepared for future needs. What we do throughout our lives contributes to our brain health. It is never too early to take steps to keep your brain and body healthy.
Change in brain function is expected as we age. As we experience things, practice old habits and learn new ones, our brains change. Our experiences and learning new things keep our brains working, developing, learning and sharp.
Most people forget things; misplace a document, car keys, etc. throughout our lives. It is not until we are older that these things begin to cause concern. Our brains reach maturity in our 20s. Even though there may be no outward signs, brain cells begin to shrink very gradually once we are in our 30s and on. For many individuals, brain functioning remains strong into our 70s and beyond and there are things we can all do to help assure we stay sharp.
We frequently see evidence that things we do to keep our body and heart healthy also contribute to brain health. Here are some things we can do that will contribute to our overall well being:
Get and keep moving. Spend 30 minutes a day doing some kind of physical activity walking, playing with grandkids or gardening, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or not putting off that trip between floors at home.
Healthy eating. As frequently recommended, a diet low in solid fats and high in fruits and veggies is important for overall health. Try including extra vegetables in soups or stews. Maybe a non-fat yogurt dip would make raw vegetables more interesting. Take the time to keep some ready to eat fruits and vegetables on hand for snacks.
Know your blood pressure. If it is high, get it under control.
Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol may act differently in older adults and may interact with medications. It could lead to unsteadiness and increase the risk of falls or other accidents.
Get adequate sleep. Try for seven to eight hours a night.
Learn something new. Take up a new hobby, learn to dance or speak a foreign language. Check out some of the brain games on the internet. Some sites charge a fee, including AARP Staying Sharp, website dedicated to better brain health. If you belong to AARP, you may already have access and it looks like some of the games can be accessed at no cost.
Stay connected with family and friends. Keep informed regarding current events. Pay attention to causes that are important to you and connect with elected officials to make your position known.
Talk to your doctor. If you are concerned that you are experiencing changes in brain function that may not be normal, it is important to talk to your doctor. If you are not sleeping well, discuss it. If medications seem to affect you adversely it is important to share. Medical professionals have limited time to spend with all of us. It is important to be organized, accurate and concise when discussing concerns. The National Institute for Health, National Institute on Aging has a publication titled Talking with Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People. A Google search for the title will take you to the publication. You can either read it on line or download it for future reference.
Keeping healthy in mind, body and spirit is important for all of us and worth the effort. Make the time to do so. Additional information is available at acl.gov (Administration for Community Living, formerly the Administration on Aging) and through AARP among other websites.
Otsego County residents who would like information or assistance on topics regarding aging and/or long term supports and services are welcome to call Otsego County Office for the Aging/NY Connects of Otsego County at 547-4232 or (855) 547-4390.
Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. Senior Scene columns can be found at http://www.thedailystar.com/news/lifestyles/.
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