By JAMIE LOBER
Everybody should know the basics of brain science. “The brain is the power house of the whole body,” asserts Dr. Deka Efobi, neurologist at University Medical Center in Lebanon. Memory is just one of its responsibilities. “The limbic system is a part of the brain that is necessary for good judgment, concentration, orientation for language and emotions such as sadness, grief, happiness, anger and jealousy,” says Efobi. That is why sometimes memory loss or stroke can affect behavior or emotions. The brain controls your heart, blood pressure, bodily temperature and the ability to void and digest food. Last but not least, the pituitary part of the brain controls hormones by sending signals to the rest of your body saying you need to make more insulin or thyroid hormone.
One thing that everyone can do for their health is give their brain a boost. “You have to prevent diseases rather than just treat them,” says Efobi. A healthy lifestyle is one of the best practices to prevent or postpone the development of memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. Consistency is the key, as your choices over a period of time can have an impact on your longterm wellbeing.
What is good for the heart is good for the brain. “You should have things that are low in sugar or low glycemic type of lifestyle which means things that do not abruptly raise your blood sugar,” says Efobi. In other words, your diet should consist of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, poultry and whole grain breads or cereals. “Fish is excellent because it is very high in omega-3 fatty acids. The smaller the fish, the higher the omega-3 content,” tells Efobi. Anchovies, sardines and Alaskan salmon are great. Set some rules in the kitchen. “You want to use more olive oil, less saturated fat and alternate sources of protein such as nuts, seeds and beans,” says Efobi.
Make fitness a priority. “We believe higher levels of physical activity decrease inflammation by providing more blood flow to the brain and have been associated with lower incidence of memory loss,” says Efobi. Other heart healthy strategies to being at your mental best include controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose level.
Get a good night’s sleep. “The average adult should get six to eight hours of sleep,” says Efobi. If you are not getting enough sleep, you can have memory difficulties. To keep your mind sharp, it is a good idea to practice doing crossword puzzles, word searches and other brainteasers. Continue reading, even if it is just a short children’s storybook.
Know your status. It is recommended that anyone above age sixty-five sees a neurologist for a memory screen. “We ask a series of simple questions called the Mini-Mental State Exam. Based on how you score, it helps you determine whether you have memory loss or cognitive changes,” says Efobi. The good news is that many types of dementia are treatable. Not every memory loss is indicative of Alzheimer’s. “Major causes of memory loss include depression, lack of sleep, having an abnormal hormonal level such as an abnormal thyroid or vitamin deficiencies, being overwhelmed, certain illnesses like multiple sclerosis and stroke, too much alcohol and certain illicit drugs. By maintaining an ongoing relationship with a primary care physician and scheduling an annual physical, you will be able to identify any underlying medical issues and treat them early.
Be aware of the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. “It is memory loss and confusion that eventually leads to irreversible mental impairment that destroys a person’s ability to reason, learn and imagine,” defines Efobi. Aside from that, there is a lot of research left to be done. “We do not know one hundred percent why people develop Alzheimer’s disease but we believe that it has to do with certain substances in the brain called neurotransmitters that are no longer at the level they should be,” says Efobi. That is how medications, such as cholinesterase inhibitors, come into play in order to improve the level of neurotransmitters in the brain.
If you know someone who has been affected, be supportive. “If they ask you the same question over and over, just respond each time because they simply do not remember,” says Efobi. Try to create a safe environment by removing things that could be dangerous. “Give them calendars, phone numbers and an ID bracelet in case they are lost so people know who to call,” recommends Efobi. Whether you are a spouse, family member or friend looking out for an individual with Alzheimer’s can be the greatest gift, as isolation and loneliness can be troubling and worsen the situation. Unfortunately, it has been found that usually the caregivers suffer the most. “It is very hard for caregivers because they have feelings of anger, guilt and frustration. They need to participate in support groups,” feels Efobi. We may often put others’ needs before our own but must remember the importance of taking care of ourselves and doing what we can to give our brain a boost.
Jamie Lober can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.