Communications & Fundraising Specialist, Ottawa
According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, over half a million Canadians are living with dementia, and that number is expected to rise exponentially in the next decade.
That being said, what exactly can you do to keep your brain healthy as you age?
As you may know, a healthy brain starts with a healthy lifestyle. Below, our experts in dementia care weigh in on how you can keep your brain healthy, while touching on how it has made a difference in the lives of their clients.
1. Physical Exercise
Engaging in a variety of physical activities isn’t just a great stress reliever, it also helps to keep your brain working efficiently.
“Exercise helps pump more oxygen to the brain to feed its cells,” she explains. “Our members find they have more energy and their mood is more positive in the days after attending our program.”
Don’t forget that your heart should be pumping to reap the benefits of physical exercise. Research has shown that aerobic exercise can potentially increase the size of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory.
2. Mental Stimulation
Just like how you can work your muscles to get stronger, you can do the same with your brain.
Giving your brain a good workout can improve cognitive function and mental speed by reinforcing existing connections between brain cells - and to do so is quite simple.
Roxanne Dion-Boudreau, Resurrection Lutheran Church Adult Day Program Team Leader, says reading a story or newspaper, word searches, puzzles, playing cards, quilting, and anything else that keeps your mind active and challenged is essential.
“Reduce your TV time and increase your mental stimulation by finding activities that you enjoy and find meaningful.”
3. Healthy Diet
The phrase “you are what you eat” has been around for centuries, and for good reason. The brain requires a lot of energy to function, which is why nutrition plays a key role in keeping your brain healthy.
While there are countless diets out there, there is one in particular that has been implemented at our dementia programs and at Richmond Care Home, which is a 16-bed home for women living with dementia.
Program Manager Carole Green recommends following the Canadian Brain Health Food Guide, which is a food diet that helps older adults “preserve their thinking and memory skills as they age.”
The Food Guide recommends increasing your intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes and reducing red and processed meats.
Carling Adult Day Program Team Leader Roma Antonello-Harris also encourages clients to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, after scientists found a link between chronic long-term inflammation in the body and the role it may play with brain health.
"Eat the rainbow," she says. "Foods that are rich in antioxidants, leafy greens, and healthy fats, such as fish, nuts, and avocados can help ward off building inflammation in the body and reduce what is there."
Cheryl Conway, Carefor’s Carling Adult Day Program Supervisor, can’t stress enough the benefit of staying socially connected when it comes to brain health.
“There is strong evidence that continued social engagement as we age may be as critical to our brain health as physical activity and a healthy diet,” she explains.
“Maintaining social connections can help protect memory and cognitive function. Being part of a social network fends off loneliness, reduces stress levels and improves mental health, all of which may delay the onset of depression and dementia.”
Not getting enough sleep is more than just feeling tired. You’ve probably already experienced some of the terrible side effects, such as anxiety, impulsive behaviours, and changing cognition.
Studies show that sleep influences our physical well-being, central nervous system, and our cognition.
Carling Adult Day Program Team Leader Makini Medina encourages people to follow these simple steps to get better shut-eye: “Exercise in the daytime, get natural daylight, avoid napping, keep your bedroom cool, establish a routine, eat a light snack before bed if necessary, and avoid stimulation (TV or exercise) in the evening.”
I’m sure we can all admit to being surprised by remembering lyrics from a song we haven’t heard in years.
Research has shown that listening to music activates various parts of your brain, strengthening those neural connections. In a way, music is the medicine of the mind, giving your brain a complete workout, which is why Richmond Care Home Activity Coordinator Katie Hamill incorporates music in the daily routine of each resident.
“When we have a singalong, the whole home is drawn to the living room to participate to the best of their abilities. Some ladies who cannot follow lyric books are able to sing confidently along to beloved songs by memory. Other ladies hum and tap their feet.”
“Our music programming taps into long-held memories and brings a smile to everyone’s face,” she adds.