For dozens of techniques and tools for supporting cognitive health and reducing mental decline check out my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” — Available wherever books are sold, including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com
On the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, there are approximately 17 hours of light. This year it happened to coincide with the Strawberry Moon, the June full moon. It’s a special time for healing and wrapping yourself and your loved ones in a luxurious robe of compassion and kindness. The longest day of the year is also a special day that thousands of Alzheimer’s Association volunteers join together to raise millions of dollars to honor those facing Alzheimer’s disease for educational programs and research.
It’s a particularly appropriate time to learn about a new study that suggests that a drug and lifestyle regimen can reverse mental decline in Alzheimer’s patients and those with mild cognitive impairment. First, it’s important to know that the study only included 10 patients, some with mild cognitive impairment, subjective cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers created personalized multi-faceted treatment programs for each patient, including diet changes, exercise, improved sleep, brain stimulation, drugs and vitamins.
The patients were treated for between five and 24 months. All 10 patients showed improvements in thinking and memory, and some were even able to return to work and complete tasks that had become impossible for them as their mental abilities declined, according to United Press International.
“The magnitude of improvement in these 10 patients is unprecedented, providing additional objective evidence that this programmatic approach to cognitive decline is highly effective,” Dr. Dale Bredesen, a professor at the Buck Institute and the University of California Los Angeles, said in a news release.
I have not seen the study, so I can’t comment on the specifics, but the overall treatment plan sounds as though it includes a healthy lifestyle regimen, which could be applied to anyone who wants to maintain mental acuity, stamina, a stronger immune system and overall physical health. The one caveat with the personalized multi-faceted treatment program in the study is that it is vital that the patient continues and maintains the program. Because as soon as an individual ceased to be regular, the old symptoms returned and the decline was steady.
Here is my list of 10 recommendations for maintaining cognitive function and boosting brain power
- Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain is 70% water when fully hydrated. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking.
- Ginkgo biloba has been proven in hundreds of studies to help blood circulation to the brain, sharpening mental performance, increasing concentration and short-term memory. A well-known study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that supplementation with 40 mg of ginkgo three times a day for one year had a positive effect on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trail of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia.
- Vitamin B complex optimizes cognitive activity and brain function, has a positive effect on memory, learning capacity and attention span, and supports a healthy nervous system and a stable mood. Vitamins B6 and B12, in particular, play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked to improving memory, lifting mood and regulating sleep.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life.
- Eat more blueberries! Their active antioxidants have been shown to protect and restore brain function. One recent study revealed that feeding blueberry extracts to mature mice partially reversed some signs of brain aging.
- Avoid alcohol. People who drink too much alcohol often show shrinkage or atrophy of the cerebral cortex, the seat of memory, learning, reasoning, intelligence, and emotions. Reduced cortical thickness in abstinent alcoholics and association with alcoholic behavior
- Avoid smoking. Smoking constricts blood vessels, making less blood, oxygen, and nutrients available to the brain. It also replaces oxygen with carbon monoxide, a chemical that damages brain cells.
- Incorporate a regular exercise program into your daily routine. An easy way to start is by walking 30 minutes a day at least five times a week. Yoga is wonderful for staving off arthritis pain, maintaining flexibility and for relaxation.
- Maintain your social connections. Loneliness can actually lead to health problems and mental decline. Join a group—any kind of group: worship, hiking, scrabble, table tennis, knitting, discussion group, or book club. Volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or animal shelter. It’s important to stay connected and to feel as though you are a contributing member of society.
- Sleep well by getting to bed before 11:00 pm, eating your last meal before 8pm, turning off your electronic devices, and eliminating light in your bedroom. Studies have indicated that sleep deprivation can increase risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you have trouble sleeping consider using a lavender essential oil spray on your pillow or a sachet of lavender inserted into the pillowcase. There are lots of natural sleep aids available at your local health food store, such as melatonin, calcium/magnesium, valerian, hops, etc. Consult with a nutritional consultant about what might work best for you.
Best of luck with your lifestyle changes and best of health to you and your family.