Our culture likes to pretend as though aging doesn’t happen. We glorify youth with billion dollar industries that help aging people look and feel younger again. But aging is a natural progression of the body and while you can’t, and we would argue shouldn’t, reverse it you can take steps to be healthier as you get older. The more you understand your body’s specific needs as you age, the better prepared you can be to appropriately tackle the topic of aging.
We have a perception in this country that at some stage in our aging process, we will need additional help. This is most commonly envisioned as assisted living or nursing home care. What happens when we change the expectations and paradigm? What if, instead, we focus on ways to keep ourselves healthier and seek help in our own communities? In order to start changing our ideas, we need to begin with ensuring that our brains remain healthy.
Common degenerative brain conditions associated with age
There are many conditions associated with diminished mental capacity that seem to go hand in hand with aging. While many of them are tied to increased age, they aren’t always limited to it. Let’s take a look at some of the most common brain conditions that are associated with the natural aging process.
- Alzheimer’s disease: One of the most common degenerative brain conditions, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It affects memory and other important brain functions and causes dementia, which is a symptom not a condition of its own. Patients lose the ability to care for themselves over time. There is no cure, but there are medications that can slow the progress or help individuals deal with the way the condition affects the brain.
- ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis): Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS affects the nervous system, which eventually leads to the degeneration of physical ability. The nerve cells eventually break down and die, causing weakness of the limbs and muscles. Doctors don’t completely understand the cause and, like Alzheimer’s, there is no cure but are ways to learn to cope with it.
- Huntington’s disease: This condition is clearly defined as hereditary and it is easy to screen for but there is still no cure. Huntington’s usually begins to present in a person’s 30s or 40s but can also start much later in life. As nerves begin to die in the brain the condition causes physical, mental, and behavioral issues. There are medications that can help slow the onset or improve the brain function for a time.
- Parkinson’s disease: When actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s, the conversation surrounding this condition changed dramatically. The disease affects the nerves causing problems with movement, most noticeable in uncontrollable tremors in the body. Like the other conditions listed here, it is a progressive disease with no cure. There are medications that can help control the symptoms, however.
Recent studies in degenerative brain conditions associated with aging
With every passing day, there are new strides in medical science that help better explain the way our brains work.
In April, the Institute of Food Technologists published a study that indicated eight key nutrients and foods that can help keep the brain healthy. These include cocoa flavonoids, omega-3 fatty acids, blueberries, and many more.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne corroborated this research by publishing a paper on the impact of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain. Individuals with a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s, but who consumed plenty of this nutrient, performed better on cognitive tests than their peers who did not.
The American Heart Association also shared information that demonstrates that patients with migraines may be suffering from silent brain injuries that could impact long-term brain health. Understanding how migraine headaches impact brain health could go a long way to developing new methods to prevent them
What can you do today to help protect your brain from these devastating degenerative conditions?
- Eat the right foods: Using the eight nutrients referenced in the study by the Institute of Food Technologists, make sure that you are getting the right foods in the right amounts.
- Exercise your brain: You need to work your cognitive muscles just like any other muscle in the body. Use popular brain training apps, such as Lumosity, for puzzles and games that help keep your mind agile.
- Exercise your body: Of course, we can’t just focus on our brains. A healthy body is key for a healthy brain and positive aging experience. You can’t control everything, but what you can do is work on keeping yourself fit which can minimize some of the effects of other conditions.
- Control your vices: Specifically, quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of developing preventable degenerative brain conditions. It also impacts overall health in a negative way. Drinking can be equally as dangerous unless practiced in moderation.
- Provide self-care: Your emotional wellbeing is as important as your mental and physical health. You need to be able to appropriately respond to your emotions. Controlling anxiety or panic, getting enough sleep, and treating yourself well can help increase your cognitive abilities.
- Get social: Lastly, one of the key components to a health aging mind is to develop relationships with others. Having a social network can help you mentally, physically, and emotionally. As we begin to redefine what aging looks like in our country, community may be the blueprint for success.
What can you do today to help protect your brain as you age?
Image by A Health Blog via Flickr