Mood and Cognitive Functions

Your brain operates electrically and chemically. Neurochemicals form the dynamic foundation for our thoughts and emotions. Many neurochemicals have been identified while many more have not. Neurochemicals important to mood include Serotonin, Neuropinephrine, Neuroadrenaline, and Dopamine. These neurochemicals remain in healthy balance for most of us, but for some there is imbalance and a mood disorder can result.

Effects of a mood disorder such as depression or mania include functional decline, interpersonal difficulty, and cognitive impairment. Depression is far more common than realized and represents a major chronic illness similar to high blood pressure. Depression not only affects the specific person, but it can also affect negatively those close to the patient and to potential colleagues. Depression and mania impairs thinking by reducing focus, attention, memory, and ability to execute plans. A depressed brain cannot process as deeply as necessary and this can result in rather significant cognitive impairment at times. Uncontrolled mania results in high distractibility, poor attention, and generally impaired cognitive functions across the board.

Treatments for mood disorder are effective and include use of antidepressants, mood stabilizers for mania, psychotherapy, and following a brain health lifestyle as espoused by Dr. Nussbaum (www.paulnussbaum.com). Use of software similar to that of FitBrains that helps to stimulate mental activity can also be of some use for a brain that may be sluggish. The most important thing is to first identify depression when it arises, take it seriously, and get some help.

Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States

A leading cause of brain disease in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Named after Dr. Alzheimer who published a paper in 1907 describing the cognitive and functional decline of a female patient, this disease now affects nearly 5 million people. It is estimated that those affected by AD will triple by 2050.

AD is the leading cause of progressive dementia. The disease typically erodes memory, spatial functions, language, personality and functional ability. The course of the disease approximates 10-12 years and those over the age of 85 are most at risk. Additional risk factors include female gender, family history of dementia, mood disorder, diabetes, and stroke. The cause is not known and there are no known cures or prevention.

Treatments exist to help reduce the impact of particular symptoms and early detection has advanced significantly. New treatments are being researched and these should be to market in the near future. Lifestyle for brain health has also generated new attention and interest. One aspect of a brain health lifestyle is mental stimulation, a primary function of FitBrains.

If your loved one is experiencing memory loss and there is some concern about this change it is advised that he or she receive a comprehensive dementia examination. This will help to discern if the memory and other cognitive changes fall outside the range of normal and if dementia is present. Early detection is important because existing treatments can be started.

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.

Down Time for Your Brain

Spirituality

Dr. Nussbaum has used this blog to articulate his five part brain health lifestyle for all to consider. These five components include Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), Physical Activity, Socialization, Spirituality, and Nutrition.  Research has provided specific activities and behaviors that fall into one or more of the five components of the lifestyle. The critical thing for readers is to review their own lifestyle currently and try to incorporate the research based activities into a proactive approach to brain health.

Spirituality is a broad term that I use to refer to turning inward, slowing down, and introspecting. This process of slowing down may be important to brain health as research indicates animal brains stop developing when exposed to environments that are too stimulating. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are notorious for a fast-paced life with multitasking and stress production. While this type of lifestyle may be necessary at times, it also has its consequences, particularly on health.

Dr. Nussbaum supports 30 minutes a day to slow down, turn inward, and to simply turn off the environmental input. This might actually include turning your phone, ipod, and other communication device off! Research indicates slowing down can reduce stress which may then have positive effects on both the heart and the brain.

Daily prayer enhances the immune system, attending a formal place of worship relates to a longer and happier life, and U.S. physicians indicate prayer is important to the overall wellbeing to their patients. Meditation and relaxation procedures have also been shown to relate to positive health outcomes. These and other ways of simply slowing down are both advised and necessary.

Have a great night sleep!

The Pedometer and Brain Health

walking and Brain health

One of the five major factors in Dr. Nussbaum’s Brain Health Lifestyle is physical activity. Research has demonstrated a relationship between walking daily and aerobic exercise three times a week and reduction in the risk of dementia. This stems in large part to the fact that every heart beat distributes 25% of the blood output and nutrition directly to the brain!

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 2007, 298) found the use of a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical activity and significant decreases in body mass index and blood pressure. We know that blood pressure; particularly hypertension and obesity are two risk factors for dementia.

Perhaps you can begin your New Year with a couple simple resolutions:

  1. Increase your daily physical activity through daily walks and, or aerobic exercise three times weekly.
  2. Purchase a pedometer for yourself and for two loved ones in your life circle. This little, inexpensive tool will remind you to walk and give you immediate feedback on your daily steps. 10,000 steps daily is a good number to live by.

You are on your way to better brain health through increased physical activity.