Building a healthy brain
As we age, so do our brains. That doesn’t always mean one will get Alzheimer’s disease. Keeping the brain healthy involves several measures.
According to Dr. William Markesbery, director of the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, Commonwealth Chair in Aging, and professor of neurology and pathology at UK College of Medicine, “A well-balanced, low-caloric diet is important. If calories are decreased, one lives longer and it provides better brain oxidation.” Markesbery also advises to exercise, wear a helmet, and buckle up to prevent brain injuries. He says aerobic exercise is good, but many older persons can’t do this, so just keep moving.
Exercise your brain
“It is extremely important to keep your brain intellectually active,” says Markesbery. “Work on crossword puzzles, play cards, join reading groups, and don’t lead a sedentary lifestyle.”
Dr. Greg Jicha, director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging’s healthy brain aging research group and assistant professor of neurology at UK College of Medicine, agrees with Markesbery. “What’s good for your general health, or your heart, is good for your brain. Watch your cholesterol, prevent high blood pressure and diabetes, don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, and keep up your activity level.”
Jicha, a researcher and clinician who treats patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, says keeping the mind busy is important. “Some people are doing well and then they retire, give up their hobbies, and fall into a sedentary lifestyle. They often ask ‘What should I do?’ and I tell them to do something they enjoy, whether it’s weeding and planting a garden, tinkering in your workshop, cooking, reading, or doing whatever you like that is stimulating.”
Other recommendations include watching less television because it is mindless. Thirty minutes to one hour is recommended in order to not have idle activity.
“Some early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include short-term memory loss, such as losing objects in the house; forgetting names of people you know well; repeating yourself or asking the same questions over and over; forgetting appointments; changes in personality and behavior; losing the ability to follow directions; becoming lost while driving; and becoming disoriented and having trouble finding the word you want to use when talking. Some of these symptoms could also be attributed to aging, but if they become progressively worse, this is abnormal,” says Markesbery.
Protecting the brain
Markesbery not only treats patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s, but also researches Alzheimer’s disease. “It has been shown that it is protective to the brain if people are on a low-fat diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA, which includes fish, fresh fruits, and vegetables,” says Markesbery. He also recommends a daily cocktail that includes: vitamin E, 400 units (only if your doctor agrees); vitamin C, 500 mg. two times a day; folic acid, 2 mg. a day; DHA/EPA (Omega 3 fatty acids such as fish oil), at least 500 mg. two times a day; selenium, 200 micrograms a day (optional and only on a doctor’s recommendation); and a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication such as ibuprofen, 600 mg. a day (only with doctor’s permission). “There are good studies that show people taking NSAIDs have reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s,” says Markesbery.
The UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging was established to identify and study problems that directly influence older adults and to improve the quality of their lives through a wide range of research, service, and educational activities.
For more information, call (859) 323-6316 or go to www.mc.uky.edu/coa/clinicalcore/brains.html.
RISK FACTORS FOR ALZHEIMER'S
According to Dr. William Markesbery, the risk factors for Alzheimer’s are:
- family history (If a first-degree relative—mother, father, sibling—had Alzheimer’s, the chance goes up three times. If you carry several specific genes, the chance goes up significantly.)
- head injury
- high-fat, high-caloric diet
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol or diabetes
- low linguistic skills at a young age (this involves low educational attainment)