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.

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.

Dr. Paul Nussbaum, Fit Brains and Brain Health- Part 2

Here is part 2 to the inital brain health blog from Dr. Nussbaum

Your Brain Health

1. Brain health begins in the womb and needs to be promoted across your lifespan.

2. Engage in the novel and complex not the rote and passive.

3. Consider the following Brain Health Lifestyle to build up your brain reserve:

Five Domains of the Brain Health Lifestyle: Socialization

  • Do not isolate or segregate as you get older. People who isolate have a higher risk for dementia.

  • Join groups and social organizations in your community.

  • Maintain and build your friendship and family network.

  • Be forgiving.

  • Develop hobbies.

  • Do not retire.

Physical Activity

  • Walk between 7,000 and 12,000 steps daily. Walking several times a week reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Buy yourself a pedometer to remind yourself to walk and to keep track of your daily steps.

  • Dance as this is a behavior that reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Garden and Knitting reduce the risk of dementia.

  • Aerobic exercise will help the heart and thereby feed the brain with the necessary blood and oxygen. It also promotes cognitive functioning such as memory and is now believed to relate to positive structural changes in the brain.

  • Use both sides of your body more often: Become ambidextrous.

Mental Stimulation

  • Play Fit Brains brain games

  • Learn a second language.

  • Read and write (use your nondominant hand) on a daily basis: the more complex the better.

  • Learn sign language as it increases IQ and increased IQ reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Play board games as board game playing reduces the risk of dementia.

  • Travel reduces the risk of dementia because it involves a new and complex environment.

  • Play a musical instrument.

  • Listen to classic music as it helps to increase learning.

  • Problem solve.

Spirituality

  • Pray on a daily basis as it enhances your immune system.

  • Attend regularly a formal place of worship at it relates to better quality of life and longevity.

  • Learn to meditate in order to slow down. Animals exposed to environments that are too stimulating demonstrate slowed brain development.

  • Learn relaxation procedures with deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

  • Slow down and do not be afraid to say “no”.

Nutrition

  • Eat 80% of what you intend to eat at each meal. Reasonable caloric restriction can increase your longevity.

  • Eat with utensils and you will eat less and also eat healthier foods.

  • Increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. This includes fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and herring. Several ounces of salmon weekly reduce the risk of dementia. Walnuts and unsalted nuts are also good for you.

  • Increase your intake of antioxidants. This includes Vitamins C and E. Colored fruits (grapes, apples, cantaloupe, and berries) and vegetables are good for you. The FDA recommends five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

  • Decrease your intake of processed foods and red meats. Lean meat such as chicken breast without skin is relatively okay.

  • Green leafy vegetables are good for you.

  • Eat one sit down meal with others a day. This activity provides many brain boosting effects at once (classic music, language, eating with utensils, slowing down, eating healthier foods).

Dr. Paul Nussbaum, Fit Brains and Brain Health

Hello, I am Dr. Paul Nussbaum, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Fit Brains, and I am happy to introduce myself to the Ft Brains’ community.  My background is in clinical neuropsychology, and I specialize in brain health and aging across the lifespan.  Currently, I maintain an Adjunct Associate Professorship in Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

This is my first posting, and I will be bogging weekly. In the days to come, I plan on covering many subjects in the area of brain health and fitness. This will include insight into our new Fit Brains brain games, tools and features.  Today’s blog will be the first part in this series.

Your Brain Health

The single greatest system ever designed in the history of the universe is your brain. Your brain is responsible for your every thought, emotion, and behavior. Unfortunately we humans do not know much about our brains and it is time to change that.

Brain Basics:

1. Your brain weighs 2 to 4 pounds.

2. Your brain is comprised of 60% fat and is the fattiest system in your body.

3. Your brain consumes 25% of the blood from every heartbeat.

4. Your brain has two sides or hemispheres (left hemisphere and right hemisphere).

  • Left hemisphere helps you with language, detail, and analysis

  • Right hemisphere helps you with faces, spatial orientation, sounds.

5. Your brain has a Cortex and Subcortex.

  • Your Cortex is conscious and helps you learn, remember, communicate, Read, write, orient to space, process sensory information, and personality.

  • Your Subcortex processes subconscious motor or procedural behaviors such as dressing, driving, and typing on your computer.

  • Your Cortex and Subcortex interact as a beautiful symphony.

6. Your hippocampus is the structure in your brain (sits in the middle of each temporal lobe just under each temple on your skull) that enables you to learn.

New Ideas about Your Brain:

  • The human brain (like the animal brain) can generate new brain cells. This new brain cell development (neurogenesis) occurs in the hippocampus.

  • The human brain is now thought to have “neural plasticity” or be a system that is highly dynamic, constantly reorganizing, and malleable. It is shaped by environmental input.

  • Our brains need exposure to environments that are enriched, complex and novel. Environments that are passive and rote do not help the health of your brain.

  • Exposure to enriched environments across your lifespan will lead to new brain cell development and increased cellular connections (“Synaptic Density”). Synaptic Density or Brain Reserve may help to delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and related dementias.


  • Glossary of Brain Terms