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02 August 2022

Brain health - three simple rules

It’s time we started to protect our brains and all the amazing things they do.

Get started with three simple rules from Alzheimer's Research UK.

Through research, we’ve learnt a lot about the things that increase our risk of developing dementia. Some of these, like our age and genetics, we can’t change.

But the latest evidence suggests that up to 40% of all cases of dementia are linked to factors we may be able to influence ourselves.

Here are the three simple rules for looking after your brain.

1. Love your heart

What’s good for your heart is good for your brain!

You probably know that cutting out smoking, being physically active and eating a balanced diet will help lower your risk of heart disease – but very few people realise you’ll be helping reduce your risk of dementia too.

Giving your heart some love shouldn’t mean crash diets or running a marathon every weekend, but simple positive changes that you can build upon and that you enjoy.

Like most things in life, it’s about making choices that work for you.

For example, being physically active doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym. It could be dancing in the kitchen or a brisk walk instead of taking the bus.

And paying attention to your diet could mean finding healthier versions of recipes you already enjoy.

The more you enjoy things, the more you’ll keep doing them – and the more your brain will thank you in the years ahead.

2. Stay sharp

Several studies, including one important project in Sweden that followed 800 women over 44 years, suggest that mental activity – as well as physical activity – in midlife could help protect brain health in later life.

Researchers think that mental activity helps to build your ‘cognitive reserve’. This is your brain’s ability to cope and keep working, even in the face of damage from diseases like Alzheimer’s.

And the most effective mental workout out there? The truth is, there isn’t one specific activity that’s proven to be most helpful. So regularly doing things you enjoy is key.

A large study of people over 65 in China showed that those who more regularly read books and newspapers, played board games or card games had a lower risk of dementia.

Researchers think mental activity helps to build a person’s ‘cognitive reserve’. This is a kind of resilience that protects the brain, enabling it to rewire itself by forming new connections between cells when old ones are damaged.

In short, having a high level of cognitive reserve helps the brain to cope and keep working, even in the face of damage from diseases like Alzheimer’s.

3. Keep connected

Research points to social activity being the third piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping your brain healthy.

The latest evidence suggests that social isolation is linked to an increased risk of dementia.

And we know that being socially active can help us feel happier, healthier and more positive in general. Whether that’s picking up the phone, meeting friends for a coffee, joining community groups, or jumping onto Zoom for a catch-up.

A major study in 2020 suggested that social isolation in later life could be a factor in around 4% of dementia cases. More recently, researchers from China and the UK have built on this study, finding that social isolation is linked to lower brain volume in parts of the brain associated with learning and thinking, as well as an increased risk of dementia.

It’s not yet fully understood why this relationship exists though. While research does suggest that social isolation can increase dementia risk, it can also be a result of the very early stages of the condition, even if it hasn’t yet been diagnosed.

Keeping connected is not only good for our brain health. It can help us feel happier and healthier in general, by spending time with loved ones, having virtual catch-ups with friends further afield and making new connections by joining clubs or volunteering.

To find out more about any of Coate Water Care’s nine residential care homes, about the way we care for people living with dementia or to book a viewing please contact our friendly Welcome Team on 01793 821200.


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