There is no way to totally prevent the onset of dementia and conditions like Alzheimer's disease, but neurologist Dr. Berneet Kaur says there are lifestyle choices which can promote good memory …
There is no way to totally prevent the onset of dementia and conditions like Alzheimer's disease, but neurologist Dr. Berneet Kaur says there are lifestyle choices which can promote good memory retention as one ages.
Kaur, director of memory and aging Services at the Erlanger Clinic for Alzheimer's and Dementia in Chattanooga, recently shared some tips with the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club.
The neurologist first explained some of the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They are two different conditions, though Alzheimer’s can cause dementia.
“There are many, many causes of dementia,” Kaur said. “Alzheimer’s is just one.”
The National Institute on Aging describes dementia as “the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering and reasoning —and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities.”
Alzheimer’s disease is, according to the NIA, “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.” This disease is the No. 1 cause for dementia in older adults.
Kaur said there are an estimated 6 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s disease right now. However, these are just estimates, because there is no real-time diagnostic method which is 100 percent accurate.
“Diagnosis is really, really hard,” Kaur said. “The only way we can really know for sure is to examine a patient’s brain after death.”
Because cases of Alzheimer’s have been increasing in the U.S., researchers have been doing just that. If no cure is found, Kaur said it is estimated there could be 12 million Americans with Alzheimer’s by 2050.
“However, even without a cure, there are things we can do to make it better,” Kaur noted.
There are some risk factors for Alzheimer’s and dementia one cannot change. There include one’s family medical history, age and whether they have had a traumatic brain injury.
However, there are some risk factors which can lessened or even eliminated with good lifestyle choices.
These additional — and possible adjustable — risk factors include diabetes (including Type 2), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, depression and lack of exercise.
“You’ve heard these before,” Kaur said. “These are also risk factors for heart disease, but they can also affect your brain. Stroke risk may be what links these.”
She explained why each of these risk factors increase one’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Those suffering from depression, for example, often experience decreases in mental and physical activity.
Kaur said studies have shown staying mentally and physically active can have positive effects on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory retention. Low rates of mental and physical activity are also believed to have negative effects.
The neurologist also noted quitting smoking and following treatment plans for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression can help lessen the risk.
“You should also be mentally active and get your exercise,” Kaur advised.
She said one does not need to suddenly join a gym and try to take on rigorous workouts. Going walking on a regular basis is a good place to start.
Kaur also recommends following the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fish.
She cautioned that the old USDA food pyramid nutrition plan some people may be used to is not ideal, because it allows for too many carbohydrates. The more recent MyPlate plan, which can be found at www.choosemyplate.gov, is a more balanced plan for those who do not wish to follow the Mediterranean diet.
Kaur also urged her audience to stay mentally active through activities like working, volunteering, being involved in social groups, taking part in challenging hobbies and reading regularly.
She also stressed the importance of getting good sleep and described the problem of sleep apnea. Kaur said one should see a doctor if they are experiencing problems like chronic snoring and feeling tired despite getting a full night’s sleep.
“It interrupts the cycles of your sleep,” Kaur said. “If your brain is not getting the rest it needs, it will not work well.”
Prior to Kaur’s presentation, the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Foundation presented a $1,000 grant to the Salvation Army of Cleveland.
Ruthie Forgey, administrator for the Salvation Army of Cleveland, said the money will be used to purchase computers and set up a computer station in the office to be used by members of the local homeless community.
“This will help them be able to apply for jobs when they visit us,” Forgey said.
She noted many companies now require applicants to submit online applications. While places like the local public library do provide free computer access, this will allow Salvation Army staff to more easily help those needing help with their applications.
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