No matter your age, there are steps you can begin taking right away to improve brain health and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. This was a key takeaway from a recent virtual summit presented by Kensington Park Senior Living, the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM), and Hilarity for Charity (HFC).
These organizations dedicated to Alzheimer’s research and education brought together experts in brain health to share a positive message of brain resilience and healing.
Learn more about the key takeaways from the event, including tangible ways you can boost your brain health, special considerations for women, and how Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed.
Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: Key Takeaways
In four breakout sessions packed with expert advice, doctors and celebrity guests shared the latest research and information on ways to boost your brain with nourishing foods, stress relief methods, exercise, and sleep.
Maria Shriver, founder of WAM, and Lauren Miller Rogen, co-founder of HFC, introduced the event and explained their commitment to preventing Alzheimer’s and educating people on how to take care of their brains.
Read on to see the tips and information discussed in these sessions, and watch the recordings here for a deeper dive into the subjects.
Eating for Brain Health
Dr. Annie Fenn and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai shared their passion for protecting the brain with good food in the first session. Lowering intake of sugar and processed, packaged snack foods was a big takeaway, as well as cooking your own food.
But it’s not about depriving yourself, they said — it’s about replacing these snacks with better foods. To snack better, Dr. Annie Fenn said to include more nuts, dates, and figs in the diet to curb hunger and sugar cravings in a healthy way.
Experts recommend the MIND diet as a guide for foods you should eat to keep your brain strong and healthy. This diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which was created for those with high blood pressure.
The MIND diet consists of:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Blueberries and strawberries
- Whole grains
- Fish and poultry
- Dark chocolate
- Cooking with olive oil rather than butter
- A daily glass of wine
Sleep and Exercise
Sleep, movement, and cognitive exercise were the focus of the second session. Dr. Jennifer Zientz explained how experts used to believe the brain was unchangeable, and we each were born with all the cells and connections we would have for our entire lives.
Today, she said we understand neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt and change through experiences. These experiences then build a “cognitive reserve” to protect the brain.
Our brains are wiring and rewiring each day as a result of our experiences, which include physical and cognitive exercise, activities, and social connections. Then, these experiences are boosted and protected by good sleep.
Stress Relief and Meditation
Dr. Dharma Khalsa introduced “spiritual fitness” in the third session, which can be developed through meditation or faith. These practices help us discover a greater understanding of who we are and what we need.
Those under excessive amounts of stress, and especially those who serve as caregivers for a loved one, are susceptible to burnout. Dr. Lakelyn Hogan discussed the intense stress of dementia caregivers in particular.
But with spiritual practices, we can peel back the layers of daily accumulated stress. Dr. Dharma Khalsa believes having a purpose in life dramatically reduces the occurrence of Alzheimer’s, and this purpose comes through spiritual practices.
Considerations for Women
Did you know women are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s? In the fourth and final session, experts dedicated to discovering how and why this occurs shared leading research and considerations for women’s brain health.
Dr. Roberta Diaz Brinton said many people believe menopause is solely a reproductive function, but it actually is completely driven by the brain. During this time, the brain undergoes considerable changes and can undergo an “energy crisis” as a result. Dr. Brinton said how we respond to this energy crisis is critical.
Dr. Jessica Caldwell said physical exercise and meditation are essential for brain health as women move through menopause. The experts also recommended women seek hormone therapy or local research studies to support the brain during menopause.
How is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?
Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed through a series of tests that evaluate memory, thinking skills, behavior changes, and functional abilities. If you believe a loved one is showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, take them to their doctor for evaluation.
The sooner your loved one is diagnosed, the faster they have access to treatments and preventative measures to potentially slow the progression.
During the appointment, the doctor will review your loved one’s symptoms, medications, and medical history. They will want to rule out whether the symptoms are caused by another undiagnosed illness or medication error.
Some tests that may be performed include:
- Mental status tests
- Interviews with friends and family
- Neuropsychologist tests (performed by a brain health specialist)
- Brain-imaging tests (MRI, CT scans, or PET scans)
- Lab tests
Experts are continually working on ways to get a faster Alzheimer’s diagnosis that detects the disease much earlier in its progression, including using various disease markers and diagnostic tests that detect abnormal proteins in the brain.
Alzheimer’s Signs and Symptoms
If you or a loved one begin exhibiting these early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, seek prompt diagnosis to maintain quality of life for as long as possible:
- Forgetting recently learned information, important dates, or events
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Issues with planning or problem solving
- Trouble performing familiar tasks such as driving or playing a game
- Losing track of dates and times
- Issues with vision, including reading or balance
- Trouble finding the right words for familiar objects
- Losing items and putting them in unusual places
- Changes in mood and personality
- Withdrawing from social activities, hobbies, or work
Those struggling with these symptoms may be reluctant to get help or feel embarrassed, but it’s always better to seek help to figure out what’s going on rather than to wait it out. Understanding how Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed can help.
Safe, Secure Care for Loved Ones with Memory Loss
It’s common for a family member to care for their loved one after they are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but there may come a time when the care requirements exceed what a loving family member is physically, mentally, or financially able to do.
When it’s time to move your loved one to a memory care community, Kensington Park Senior Living provides the expert, loving care your family needs.
At Kensington Park Senior Living, our memory care is unmatched. We created three specialized memory care neighborhoods — Connections, Haven, as well as our Kensington Club for mild cognitive impairment — available to loved ones prior to joining us in one of our memory care residences. We also offer independent living and assisted living for those with other unique life needs and goals.