Brain Health: You're in the Driver's Seat



Stroke, aneurysm, tumor, head injury, Alzheimer’s Disease. Reading the list can send a chill down anyone’s spine. We know they’re out there, we know we could get them, we know the consequences. But we go on with our lives not giving them much thought until the fateful day we, or a loved one, receives the diagnosis. It’s like driving. We jump in the car day after day assuming it will run until the momentous morning the engine cuts out in the middle of the expressway.


Much of our vehicle’s health is up to us. We must get routine oil changes, tire rotations, and fill up with gasoline. And when we hear that loud sound, or have trouble getting it started, we call the mechanic. Similarly, our brains require preventative maintenance to keep them running smoothly, and when the first sign of a problem strikes such as head pain, confusion, or neurological symptoms, we need to seek out our “body mechanic” to get a quick diagnosis. We know that not ignoring unusual symptoms – with our cars or our body – is important to minimizing damage.


It is true, however, that some bodies, just like some makes and models, come with a bad part – a defect that we won’t know about until the breakdown occurs and we call for emergency assistance. Some things are beyond our control. But if we survive the crash restoration often can occur.


Ongoing research is taking place which is showing the positive impact simple lifestyle changes can have on preventing, slowing, and/or rebounding from cognitive decline. Neuroscientists are studying how common activities such as exercise can foster neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons), neuroplasticity (the formation of new neural connections, reorganization, and adaptation), and angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) in the brain.


So buckle up. Let’s quickly review some simple lifestyle changes that are showing promising findings in the area of brain health.

1. Socialization & Intellectually Stimulating Leisure Activities

So you thought everything on the list would be unenjoyable and arduous, huh? Not so! Research has consistently found that isolation (and even perceived isolation) has a strong correlation with cognitive decline, and that social involvement throughout later life can avert or postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive deterioration. Moreover, a few investigations have come out suggesting that activities such as writing, reading, puzzles, board games, crafts, and acquiring new computer abilities – especially when the activity involves the learning of new skills and a communication component – may improve an older adult’s performance across multiple cognitive spheres.

2. Art & Music

3. Online Cognitive Training

4. Diet

5. Exercise

 

Dr. Nicole Best (“Nikki”) is a Clinical Psychologist and 3-time ruptured brain aneurysm survivor. She earned her Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from Wright State University School of Professional Psychology, and completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at The Ohio State University Medical Center, Dept. of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Division of Rehabilitation Psychology. Thereafter, she worked for almost 14 years in the VA Healthcare System before leaving on Disability after her 3rd subarachnoid hemorrhage. She has extensive experience performing psychotherapy and neuropsychological and decisional capacity evaluations with patients suffering from a wide range of medical conditions, including dementia, traumatic brain injury, stroke, and terminal illness.


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