Tag Archives: brain fitness

More Research on Lifestyle and Risk Reduction in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

For the past decade or more I have advanced the idea that a proactive lifestyle can be beneficial to the human brain. I have not been the only one to discuss or study this point, but it remains a central focus of my work. There has been a rather robust collection of studies that have shown correlations between particular lifestyle behaviors and reduction in the risk of dementia. It was from these studies that I published my own proactive brain health lifestyle ® to include physical activity, socialization, spirituality, nutrition, and mental stimulation.

Criticism against the existing research on lifestyle and risk reduction of dementia has generally been that more controlled and randomized studies are needed to move from the correlational to the cause and effect. This is fair and represents ongoing efforts by many to show such a cause and effect. Lifestyle does matter for the brain as it does for the rest of our body.

A new study to be published in Lancet Neurology provides the latest support for lifestyle and reduction in risk of dementia, including AD. Indeed, according to this study, about half of the risk factors for AD are potentially changeable and that reducing them could substantially decrease the number of new cases of the disease worldwide.

Factors that increase one’s risk for AD that are modifiable include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, sedentary behavior, depression, and low education level. In the United States, the most significant modifiable factor is physical activity accounting for 21% of the risk for AD, followed by depression and smoking. Added together, the three factors account for 50% of the risk.

The authors of this study indicate that if these risk factors were decreased by just 10%, about 184,000 AD cases in the U.S. and 1.1 million cases worldwide could be prevented. A reduction of 25% on all seven risk factors could prevent nearly half a million cases in the U.S. and more than three million world-wide.

With 5 million cases of AD in the U.S. and nearly 35 million in the world, this analysis is significant as maybe as many as 50% of all AD cases could be modifiable and that by changing the risk factors increased quality of life could be achieved. This and more research will be published to further support the importance of a proactive brain health lifestyle for everyone.

Brain Health in the Summer

Summer is here in a big way splashing the heat and humidity upon us. This is a great time of the year to get outdoors and is far better than shoveling a foot of snow off the driveway. Being able to move outdoors is a great opportunity to expand our list of activities and to increase quality time with our brain health lifestyle ®.

Consider the following 20 activities as part of your daily routine:

  1. Take a daily walk and use Arookoo (www.arookoo.com) or a pedometer count your steps.
  2. Go swimming, as it is good aerobic exercise and will cool your body.
  3. Get the bike out and ride around the block a few times.
  4. Play some sports with the kids.
  5. Cook some fish and chicken on the grill.
  6. Enjoy a cool salad on the deck.
  7. Enjoy a glass of red wine.
  8. Read the book you have been holding.
  9. Kids get started on your summer reading.
  10. Go to a sporting event as a family.
  11. Go to the zoo as a family.
  12. Go to a theme park or water park.
  13. Enjoy a vacation together.
  14. Increase your hours of sleep.
  15. Get involved in a hot yoga class.
  16. Pray daily.
  17. Attend a formal place of worship with the family.
  18. Take a walk in the woods or on the beach.
  19. Plant your garden and clean the yard.
  20. Drink plenty of water.

Consider this a reasonably good start to a brain healthy summer! Take it one step at a time and your body and brain will thank you.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

Hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia according to a prospective analysis of more than 600 people free of cognitive decline. Of those studied, the risk of all-cause dementia rose 27% for every 10-decibel loss of hearing at the start of the almost 12-year study. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) rose in a similar fashion, but did not reach statistical significance. The study appears in the February issue of Archives of Neurology.

The findings support the idea that social isolation caused by deafness may be part of the cause of dementia. This may be particularly true as the association to dementia was only seen for deafness above the level at which verbal communication was impaired.

Over a five-year period from 1990 through 1994, 795 participants had both hearing and cognitive testing as part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Of these, the current study consisted of 639 people, ages 36 to 90, free of confirmed or suspected dementia.

The participant subset was followed until May 31, 2008, for a median of 11.9 years. During this time, researchers found 58 participants to be diagnosed with dementia from all causes, including 37 with AD. Most of the participants (456) had normal hearing at baseline with a mean age around 60, while 125 had mild hearing loss, 53 had moderate hearing loss, and six had severe deafness.

Interestingly, in the 15 years before the study period, those who developed dementia had an average yearly hearing loss that was nearly twice average for those who did not develop dementia.

Maybe even a Third Language

Almost as fast as my recent blog on bilingualism and the benefit to the human brain was posted I read a research report that learning a third language can help to reduce risk of dementia. This research from the Public Center for Health in Luxembourg does suggest more languages equal a lower risk of cognitive impairment. The research was to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology in April

Seniors who practice foreign languages over their lifetime and have the ability to speak more than two languages demonstrate the cognitive protection. The research studied 230 people with average age of 73 and findings support the growing body of literature that describes cognitive reserve thought to be developed by engagement in the complex and novel.

Similar studies have shown the health promoting effects of language development and in this case development of more than two languages. In this particular study, participants who had spoken three languages were significantly more likely to be protected against cognitive impairment. Those with four languages were even better off in terms of cognitive health. Those with five or more languages had similar protection to mastering four languages.

We all might want to get started on our second, third, or fourth language today!

Bilingualism and the Brain

I have written and spoken many times about the concept of “brain reserve” which refers to the development of cellular connections that provide a type of synaptic density (like a jungle of connections in the brain) throughout the cortex. It is thought that brain reserve is a reflection of a healthy brain and further helps to delay onset of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

A new study indicates bilingualism is another avenue to building brain reserve and a potential delaying agent against dementia. Interestingly, language development has been a consistent and robust correlation of brain health and a protective factor.  The development of a second language early in life has typically been the focus of study, however the development of a second language, even some parts of the language, appears to be beneficial from a health perspective.

The research from Toronto, Canada found that of the 450 Alzheimer’s patients studied (all with same level of impairment), those who were bilingual were diagnosed with the disease four to five years later than those who spoke but one language. The study results were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientists believe the learning of a new language helps to develop the executive system in the frontal lobe that might help to provide a buffer against the ravages of dementia.

Within a brain health lifestyle (see www.paulnussbaum.com), mental stimulation and exposure to the novel and complex are essential. This one pillar of my brain health lifestyle helps to build reserve. Language development, including a second language fits with this approach. The study also comes on the heels of another stud that found a correlation between deafness or reduced auditory input and risk of dementia. The possible factor in that relationship is the increased risk of isolation for the person and the brain if incoming information is not processed. Isolation has been established as a consistent factor with risk of dementia.

Language and language development is a critical behavior for brain health. Consider learning some parts of a new language including sign language as part of your proactive brain health lifestyle.

Fear of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive that polled 2,100 adults found Alzheimer’s Disease to be the most feared disabling disease with 61% responding as such. 48% rated cancer the most feared while 32% said stroke, 18% heart disease and 8% diabetes. This is a finding that is consistent with other surveys of baby boomers who rate memory loss as a top concern.

We do not have a cure or even a prevention for AD, but research suggests lifestyle choices can help to promote brain health and perhaps delay onset of such neurodegenerative diseases. A proactive brain health lifestyle ® is suggested from the earliest of ages (see paulnussbaum.com). You can learn and apply behavioral change to areas of socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality as part of your overall brain health lifestyle ®.

Giving Hot Yoga a Try

Dr. Nussbaum’s brain health lifestyle ® combines physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, spirituality, and nutrition into an integrated and comprehensive approach to maximizing the health and potential of your brain. While no single slice of the five part brain health pie is more important than the other, all should be considered and implemented into your daily life.

Recently, I started hot yoga as I included it as a recommendation to my pain patients and thought I needed to understand this activity better. After four or five sessions of hot yoga I believe it to be a healthy and cleansing type activity that includes aerobics and stretching with a focus on breathing. To this end, hot yoga encompasses at least three of the five major brain health lifestyle ® components: physical activity, spirituality, and socialization.

Personally I feel very good mentally and physically after hot yoga. I will likely make this a regular part of my lifestyle and pursuit of emotional and physical health. The activity is also a good one to try with your partner.

Give it a shot and see how you feel.