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.
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!
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:
- Increase your daily physical activity through daily walks and, or aerobic exercise three times weekly.
- 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.
As we enter a new year, I like to reflect on the past year and what that means for the one ahead. It’s been five years that I have been developing the brain fitness market, and have seen a lot of changes – both positive and negative. When I first started, there was minimal interest in the concept of exercising your brain. In the last two years however, there has been an explosion in interest from adults of all ages and media coverage and I have been interviewed by leading publications such as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Women’s Health.
This has been great news for both the industry and the general public. We are witnessing a shift in society, and a general awareness about the importance of brain fitness. We saw a similar shift in the 1980s with the physical fitness movement. Researchers and the medical profession pushed the positive health benefits of physical activity, but it took a while for society to fully integrate physical exercise into daily life. Thanks to recent scientific research we now know that the brain is malleable and we can build brain connections at any age. Just ten years ago, this was not thought possible.
Nintendo has also helped open up the brain game market with their extremely successful Brain Age game. This has, of course, created numerous copycats and flooded the consumer market with one-off and weak products. Yet, I am thankful to Nintendo as they were able to bring awareness of brain games to the general public. They had seen the success of their game in Japan and realized there was an aging population worldwide. In addition, they had the resources to market Brain Age and tap into this underserved area. Many people in the scientific and brain fitness community scoff at their game, finding it scientifically weak and a disservice to the consumer. I would have to agree that their product is scientifically weak and I have many of my own complaints. However, Nintendo has hit on something that I understand. They implemented the concepts of “engagement” and “fun factor” and it is one of the main reasons for their success.
So, what does this mean for 2008 and the next five years? There are those who say that the brain fitness market is becoming saturated and is in its later stages. I have seen the market develop up until now, and couldn’t disagree more. Brain fitness is still in its infancy and will see real growth in the next five years. Awareness about brain fitness has now passed the tipping point but we are still falling short in the area of “adoption” into our daily lives. The companies that truly understand what individuals are looking for will be rewarded with enduring customer loyalty. For us at Fit Brains, we believe the “adoption” of brain fitness will be answered through “relevancy”, “motivation” and a “fun factor”. Yes, it is possible to have fun and be scientific too – it just hasn’t been done! Some doctors and people might argue this, but it’s the key to full integration into daily life. People don’t stick with things they don’t enjoy, especially things like long-term health goals that are often difficult to maintain. If we can make an important aspect of a daily routine more accessible and engaging, people will be more likely to do them.
The team here at Fit Brains is extremely excited about 2008! We plan to have our first launch very shortly. Fit Brains will provide a brain games, tools and features that is fun and engaging. We hope people of all ages adopt a brain fitness routine so that we can keep our most important asset strong and healthy!
I have proposed a five factor brain health lifestyle to include (1) Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), (2) Physical Activity, (3) Socialization, (4) Nutrition, and (5) Spirituality. For this blog I want to provide some information on the power of socialization.
Research teaches us that social isolation and segregation, particularly in the later years of life is related to increased risk of dementia. Dementia is a general clinical term that describes a decline in general intelligence, loss of memory, language or visuospatial deficit, change in personality, and decline in functional ability. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the number one cause of dementia in the United States.
Other research indicates passivity in the forties is related to increased risk of dementia in later life. There is a relatively strong message to remain integrated and involved in something meaningful across your entire lifespan. It is also important to be engaged with other people and to develop strong relationships. A study this year taught us that loneliness actually increases the risk of dementia. It is not simply being with others, one needs to feel included and related to the group.
It is never too late to develop a personal inventory of your social network and relationships. Assess your life and determine if you are spending time doing the things that inspire you, more importantly that might inspire others. Socialization and all that is discussed in this blog is a brain health issue and one that should be taken seriously.