June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
Marwan Sabbagh, M.D., director of Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, said there are lifestyle habits people can incorporate, today, to possibly reduce risk for cognitive decline, and improve brain function.
He said one important habit, which often flies under the radar, is sleep.
“I call sleep deprivation, whether it’s through sleep apnea or intentional sleep deprivation, a cognitive killer,” said Dr. Sabbagh. “We know people with sleep deprivation have worse cognitive scores and that treating sleep can improve your brain function almost within days.”
Dr. Sabbagh said we should be mindful of brain health every day – including managing chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Physical activity has been associated with brain benefits as well.
Research shows greater amounts of exercise can reduce the risk for dementia and improve cognition, memory and attention.
Social interaction has also been shown to stimulate the brain. According to a previous study, seniors who are lonely and have little socialization, tend to have an increased risk for dementia.
Feeding the brain a healthy diet has benefits too, particularly the Mediterranean diet, according to Dr. Sabbagh.
“The Mediterranean diet has several elements to it – it has the fish which has omega 3’s; it has a low saturated fat; high olive oil – which is mono unsaturated fat – it has antioxidant spices, whole grains, legumes and just a little bit of red wine,” he said. “We think it’s not any one thing, but the combination of these things that provides benefit.”
Doctors believe dementia-related brain changes likely begin about 20 years before symptoms surface.
Dr. Sabbagh said while it’s still being researched, incorporating healthy brain habits during middle age or earlier, is the best thing we can do towards preventing mental decline.