WHAT IS BRAIN HEALTH?
Brain health refers to the ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate and maintain a clear, active mind. That includes things like information management, logic, judgement, perspective and wisdom. Keeping your brain healthy means reducing risks to it throughout your life and as you age.
Research is still evolving, but evidence is strong that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by making key lifestyle changes – especially for those in mid-life or with a family history of dementia. It’s never too late to adopt these lifestyle habits to benefit your health. They include:
- Regular physical activity
- Staying socially engaged
- Maintaining good heart health and controlling blood pressure
- Quitting smoking
- Preventing and managing diabetes
- Preventing and managing obesity
- Preventing falls and concussions
Cognitive decline may include dementia, a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is caused by physical changes in the brain - it is not a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for more than 70% of dementia cases. Alzheimer's is recognized as a chronic disease and a public health priority, including in Vermont.
Studies show dementia rates in the United States are dropping. This good news may be due to population reductions in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.
Alzheimer's disease affects 13,000 Vermonters and is the state’s 6th leading cause of death. Vermont has the 6th highest Alzheimer’s death rate in the U.S. It takes a toll on individuals affected by the disease and their families, especially the 30,000 caregivers in our state.
Our brains age along with the rest of our bodies, and our abilities naturally change with age. This aging process is different from the disease process associated with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for more than 70% of dementia diagnoses. Other forms of dementia include Vascular dementia, Lewy Bodies, and Frontotemporal dementia among others. Find more information about Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer’s is a chronic and progressive disease, with symptoms of memory loss and impaired mental and physical capacity worsening over time. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation, take care of daily living tasks, and respond to their environment. Know the 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease is the most expensive disease in our country. For more information check out this fact sheet from the Alzheimer's Assocation.
If you are concerned about a loved one or yourself – ask your health care provider to perform a brief assessment. Early screening gives more time for families to plan next steps and access helpful resources and supports.
As many as half of people with dementia are not diagnosed, and less than half of those diagnosed are not aware of the diagnosis. A formal diagnosis allows people living with dementia to improve their quality of life, by accessing treatments and interventions, building a care team, participating in support services, and potentially enrolling in clinical trials. They and their caregivers can set systems in place to better manage medications, receive counseling, and address the challenges of other chronic conditions. They can plan for future financial and legal needs and end of life choices.
Cognitive screening is included in Medicare’s annual Wellness Visit. Medicare also offers a new benefit for dementia planning support.
Free counseling with clinicians and assistance with linking to local resources – is available 24/7 through the Alzheimer’s Association and its Vermont Chapter.
Numerous studies have found that people with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, have a lower level of cognitive function and are at a higher risk for dementia than individuals without diabetes. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there is evidence that a healthy lifestyle that reduces risk from heart disease and diabetes may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Behaviors such as healthy eating, exercise, and stress management may help to protect the brain like they do the heart. Diets that focus on green leafy and other vegetables, nuts, fruits (especially berries), legumes and fish may reduce your risk. Options include the Mediterranean diet, DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the newer MIND diet (Mediterranean DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay). Sound nutrition and regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Limit saturated fats, eat whole grains, fruits, fish and vegetables. Walking and other simple exercises offer health benefits. The Alzheimer’s Association of Vermont offers a number of courses online, for free. Topics include Healthy Living for your Brain and Body: Tips from the Latest Research.As outlined in this brief , smoking impacts brain health and increases the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Within eight hours of quitting, the body’s oxygen levels are back to normal.
For free quit resources for you and your family: www.802Quits.org
The stress of caring for and living with a person who has Alzheimer’s can cause poor health and depression for the caregiver and family members. Vermont’s Area Agencies on Aging have created regional resource guides to help support caregivers and family members.
The Governor’s Commission on Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders was established in 1991 to take the lead on public health policy and coordination to identify and address the needs of those with Alzheimer’s and related disorders, and their caregivers and families. The Health Department participates on the Commission and works to raise awareness about the impact of the disease and ways Vermonters can reduce their risk for dementia through healthy lifestyle choices.
Vermont has a new Action Plan on Alzheimer’s and Healthy Aging 2018-2019. This plan reflects a collaboration between the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living and the Health Department to advance awareness and support of Alzheimer’s and healthy aging in Vermont. Another resource is the State Plan on Dementia, which outlines strategies and resources to address its impact on Vermonters.