What is Dementia?

Dementia is a clinical term used to describe loss of general intelligence, forgetfulness, language or other cognitive disturbance, personality change, and functional decline. There are nearly 70 or more causes of dementia, with the most common cause attributed to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Other common causes of dementia include Vascular dementia (VaD), Lewy Body Dementia, Alcohol and substance based dementia, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, head injury, seizure disorder and many others.

Most causes of dementia are irreversible meaning the dementia will not be cured or get better. Only 3-5% of dementias are considered reversible. Examples of reversible dementia include B-12 deficiency, depression, and thyroid disorder. Alzheimer’s disease, the leading type of irreversible dementia affects those primarily over the age of 65. There is no know cause of AD nor is there any cure at this time.

Medications exist to treat the symptoms of dementia without actually stopping the underlying disease process. Often persons with dementia can become depressed, anxious, or even psychotic. These co-morbid conditions can be effectively treated with psychotropic medication, structure and a supervised environment.

Dementia extracts an enormous emotional toll and financial toll on families. Caregiving is fast becoming a major issue for baby boomers. Primary caregivers often suffer fatigue, depression, and physical illness as they wear down with the new role. Unfortunately dementia will become a bigger problem as the number of older persons on the planet increases.

Your Fatty Brain

As part of our ongoing discussion on brain fitness (e.g. brain games) and health lifestyle I have proposed, it is now time to consider the fattiest part of you……your brain.

Your brain, the most miraculous system ever designed in the history of the universe, weighs between two and four pounds and is made up of 60% fat. As a system of your body, it is indeed your fattiest. It is important to understand the role of the fat and how you may keep the fat nice and robust.

One role for the fat in your brain is to insulate neural tracks of cells to propel the electrical impulse carrying information in a rapid way. Without the fat, the brain cells are not insulated and information processing will slow. Many of us complain about how slow our computer is; imagine how tough it must be to suffer a slowing of our own information processing speed.

Research suggests Omega 3 fatty acids are a good source to build or maintain the healthy fat in our system and brain. Indeed, research suggests consumption of Omega 3s can help to fight off dementia. Foods rich in Omega 3s include fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, and sardines. Unsalted nuts such as walnuts are also rich in Omega 3s. It is suggested that we increase our fish intake to several ounces several times a week.

Another important brain boosting food includes fruits and vegetables because they are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help to rid the body of oxygen based toxins known as free radicals thought to create breakdown in muscle and tissue. At least one national governing body indicates we should consume five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

For the New Year consider increasing your intake of fish, fruits and vegetables. Your brain deserves it!

Why Brain Health Matters

Health and healthy lifestyles have become a priority in the lives of more people than ever before. Millions of people walk or jog, engage in formal exercise, meditate, and abide by healthy diets all to maximize the healthy of their bodies. Interestingly, our culture, like so many before, prioritizes the health of the heart as most important. Indeed, the Egyptian royalty were buried with every organ removed except the heart because they believed the heart was the center of the universe.

We in the United States continue to prioritize the heart, a pump that perfuses blood throughout our body. We provide meaning and import to the heart it really does not deserve. For example, we ascribe love and emotion to the heart as when we say “I love you with all my heart or you broke my heart.” While common prose, it is really a silly statement. It is time to realize that our every thought, emotion, and motor behavior is due to the miraculous system of the human brain.

With recent research supporting the human brain as a highly dynamic, constantly reorganizing system (plasticity) capable of generating new brain cells and brain reserve, we are now able to apply a lifestyle that promotes health for the brain. Perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of our time is the fact that most do not even know the basics of this critical part of our being-our brain!

Brain Health is important because our commitment to a lifelong lifestyle that promotes development of brain reserve can enhance our ability to maintain our thinking abilities, our memory, and our “life story.” Many Americans are afraid of brain disease and fear losing their memory. Brain health is a proactive and positive means to do what is in our control to maximize and preserve our brain function.

I have proposed and published a “Brain Health Lifestyle” that is proactive and contains five major factors to form your Brain Health Pie:

  • Physical Activity
  • Mental Stimulation
  • Spirituality
  • Nutrition
  • Socialization

Together, these five components each have specific research-based activities that relate to brain health and development of brain reserve. FitBrains provides opportunity for brain games that is considered important to the mental stimulation piece of the brain health pie. I will outline each of the five major components to your brain health lifestyle in upcoming blogs.

Normal Brain Changes with Aging

Nearly everyone experiences the inability to recall a name or to struggle trying to find the correct word. These moments are referred to “tip of the tongue” phenomena and can be quite frustrating. The good news is that word finding problems is not necessarily a sign of pathology or disease, and indeed likely represents changes that occur with the normal aging process.

Around the age of 50 our brains begin to change structurally and functionally. We lose brain cells over the lifespan with a disproportionate number of cells lost in the frontal lobes. These are normal changes and the functional change associated with aging is also considered normal. We tend not to freely recall information, our information processing speed slows, and we may struggle with word finding. Once again, these are typically considered normal changes with aging and it is most common to experience such changes around age 50.

I believe that brain exercise, particularly in the cognitive areas listed above, can help to keep these functions relatively sharp and maintained. Passivity certainly will not help the brain and indeed it may exacerbate the changes in our cognitive processes.

Get started today on brain games and turn to FitBrains as your source for a good brain fitness workout.

What exactly is Brain Reserve?

Brain reserve refers to a brain that has formed many cellular connections and is rich in brain cell density. The power of brain reserve is that we believe it has the ability to delay the clinical onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Simply put, AD will have to work longer and harder to manifest itself if it invades a brain that has built up reserve.

I often use the example of a brain that looks like a jungle versus one that looks like an island with one palm tree. In this example, the brain that looks like a jungle is the healthy brain because it has tremendous cellular connections like the density of a jungle and therefore brain reserve. If you think of AD as a weed whacker, it will invade the brain and begin to do its damage by destroying brain cells. However, it will take AD a long time to show any impact if it has to destroy a jungle’s worth of brain cell connections. In contrast, AD will manifest quickly after infiltration into the brain if it simply needs to destroy only a relatively few cellular connections (the island with one plam tree).

Brain reserve is developed over the lifespan as one exposes his or her brain to the novel and complex, the enriched environment on a daily basis. A Brain Health Lifestyle that involves Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), Physical Activity, Spirituality, Socialization, and Nutrition can help to build up brain reserve and maintain a healthy brain.