We have seen tragedies play out on the evening news describing how different people, including some famous persons, have lost their lives from accidents on the ski slopes or sled riding. For most, the winter related accidents involve falls with head injuries and head injuries remain a major problem for the young and old.
Sitting with our skull is our 3 to 4 pound brain that enables our every thought, movement, and emotion. It is critically important that everyone consider the sage advice of wearing a helmet when skiing, sledding, tubing, and even ice or roller skating. The same is true of bike riding, motorbike or motorcycle riding, skateboarding, and anything that involves wheels. As it is winter for many of us I want to reinforce the need for helmets with the sports in the snow.
While it may not be cool or attractive to wear a helmet, it certainly is much better than suffering a head injury that can lead to cognitive, emotional, and motor deficits or even death. Take a few moments this winter and place a protective helmet on your brain!
I am often asked about the value of having and caring for pets on general health. Research supports a positive relationship between having a pet and general health with more specific value in reducing blood pressure. Pets can create a vital role for someone as the dog, cat or other pet needs to be fed, walked, cleaned etc. Sometimes, caring for a pet can be the major role in a person’s life, particularly if someone is living alone.
A pet can also provide unconditional love, friendship, companionship, and a sense of family. Many people consider their pets significant members of the family and it is quite normal to experience grief when a pet dies.
For those who do not and cannot own a pet there are opportunities in the community to spend time with animals and to even “pet sit” for a family who may be out of town. I am also aware of some places that simply ask for the animals to be walked every so often. These are good opportunities to interact with a pet and to enjoy some of the health benefit that comes with it.
I read with some interest a recent article in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, November 3, 2009 about caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) who find new companions for love. The article questioned whether such behavior could be considered adultery?
We have nearly 5 million Americans with AD and at least that many at risk. The number of those with AD will likely continue to grow to as many as 15 million by 2050. A recent survey reported there will be nearly 35 million with AD across the planet. Many of those suffering AD are married and the healthy spouse can serve the role of caregiver for many years, including a significant amount of time when their spouse with AD no longer recognizes them. The role of caregiver is difficult and ripe with emotional, physical, and financial stress. The article in the Wall Street Journal raises another stressor which is the idea that the healthy spouse may be without intimacy, love, and companionship for many years.
It is nearly impossible to understand how emotionally difficult it must be to care for a spouse with AD. Some describe AD as two deaths, one when you are told about the diagnosis and the second with the actual physical death of your loved one. Along the course of AD, a spouse will no longer recognize his or her partner. A healthy spouse who provides care to their partner with AD is vulnerable to loneliness, depression, and ongoing loss. How does one cope with loss of the emotional connection or loss of love in the traditional sense when your spouse is physically still present?
The Journal article raises many thoughts and ideas that do not have easy answers. I think it points out that we need to support even more our caregivers who dedicate so much of their time to their spouses with AD.
I often am asked what one thing is most important for brain health promotion. I cannot answer this question because I do not believe there is such a thing. The human brain requires a comprehensive and integrated approach to health which is why I have developed my five part brain health lifestyle (see www.paulnussbaum.com).
I do believe that eating one meal a day with family members or even friends and those you may not know very well (be safe first) can be a major brain health activity. Sitting down to a meal helps you to slow down, you can listen to some music in the background, and tell stories over your meal. You can also use utensils that typically means you will eat healthier and eat less than when you eat with your fingers. These are several brain health boosts with one activity.
It is good to learn from Rasmussen Surveys that 65% of those surveyed by telephone eat with their family twice weekly. 38% eat a meal three times a week with their family and 27% report eating between two and three times weekly with their family. Only 22% do not eat with their family during the week.
I encourage everyone to carve out the special time necessary to sit down and eat a meal with your loved ones on a daily basis. Your brain and body will thank you.
A recent article in US News discussed the brain health of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States. An index that was comprised of diet (36%), physical health (25%), mental health (24%), and social well being (15%) was used to compare the states. Data was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Results from the study revealed the following top ten brainiest cities:
1. Washington DC
3. Washington State
8. New Jersey
10. New Hampshire
It is important to be proactive in your brain health lifestyle. Dr. Nussbaum (www.paulnussbaum.com), Chief Scientific Officer for Fitbrains, Inc. underscores the importance of a brain health lifestyle that includes socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality.
A recent study demonstrates daily surfing of the internet activates the brain of older persons. This is another example of how the environment in many forms can shape the brain and illustrates the power of neural plasticity.
24 neurologically healthy adults, aged 55 to 78, surfed the internet while their brains were being scanned by an MRI machine. Prior to the study, half the participants had used the internet daily while the other half had minimal experience. After the initial MRI scan, the participants were instructed to do internet searches for an hour a day for seven days in the next two weeks. Then they returned to the clinic for another MRI.
At baseline, those who had internet experience had much greater brain activation relative to those without internet experience. However, those who practiced on the internet during the study demonstrated significant activation in their brain to the point that they were nearly equal to the brains of the experienced internet users.
The idea of “use it or lose it” can really be taken a step further and the idea is to “use it in new ways” and novelty and complexity really is the foundation to brain health.
A recent study supported by the National Football League indicates that Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or related conditions involving memory deficits appear to occur more frequently in the league’s former players significantly more than the general population. Indeed, the study indicates former players suffer dementia 19 times more often than the normal rate for men ages 30-49.
The study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research is consistent with previous studies pertaining to NFL players and the effects of head injury. The study found that 6.1% of players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis or 5x higher than the cited national average which is 1.2 %. Players ages 30 through 49 evinced a rate of 1.9% or 19 times that of the national average which is documented to be .01%.
Critics of the study question its methodology that reportedly used telephone surveys. However, research beyond the NFL consistently lists head injury as a risk factor for AD even though the exact mechanism for this relationship is not yet known.
Perhaps a more significant issue that the NFL/Dementia study underscores is the cumulative effect of head injury which likely begins with the sport of football well before any single player enters the NFL. Fortunately there are now sophisticated assessment protocols that provide each player in high school the opportunity to have his or her cognitive skills measured, thereby providing a baseline of their cognitive status. In the event a concussion occurs the player can obtain another assessment to measure the impact of the head injury that helps to keep the player off the field until his or her cognitive status returns to baseline.
It is most likely not a good idea to engage in any activity that has persistent striking of the head to any degree. Head injuries occur in football, hockey, and perhaps even soccer. The fact that the latter sport does not permit use of head bands or some type of head gear is amazing! The current study should alert the nation to re-consider youth sports as the cumulative effect of striking the head across the lifespan most likely contributes to the results reported. Equally significant is the idea that any child would be exposed to a potential head injury when his or her brain is undergoing critical development.