What is Brain Health?

Brain health is a combination of three components: diet, physical activity and mental stimulation.

A very simple way to remember this is, what is good for your heart is good for your brain.

It is highly important to maintain good brain heath for both men and women. However, brain scans tell us that the rate at which brain cells die tends to be faster in women than in men. Unfortunately, this may lead to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men two to one. In the UK, dementia has been a leading cause of death for women since 2011.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a symptom of certain types of neurodegenerative diseases which may result in memory loss, processing information and problem solving. It is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders. There are over 200 subtypes of dementia, but the five most common are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.

Interesting facts:

● Dementia affects the brain 20 to 30 years before any symptoms appear, which presents an ideal opportunity for people to modify their lifestyles and help to prevent or delay dementia.

● According to recent research, 40% of the people diagnosed with dementia today could have prevented the diagnosis if they would have modified their lifestyle.

● As with many diseases, dementia prevention is achievable with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.

Very important facts for women

· For women, high blood pressure in midlife is believed to increase the risk of dementia. And since women have a lower range of ‘normal’ blood pressure than men, this may lead to misdiagnosis.

· Investigators also found that women have a lower blood pressure threshold than men for risk of each specific cardiovascular disease type, including heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.

Understanding the effect of oestrogen

· Oestrogen protects brain cells from damage and stimulates nerve growth. After the menopause, oestrogen levels fall and that has an effect on the brain health of women.

· Some researchers have suggested that if a woman has more oestrogen throughout her life, she might be less likely to develop dementia.

· Women are more at risk of developing osteoporosis than men because the hormone changes that happen at the menopause directly affect bone density. The female hormone oestrogen is essential for healthy bones. After the menopause, oestrogen levels fall. This can lead to a rapid decrease in bone density. Therefore, some women start taking calcium without consulting a specialist, and scientists have found that taking calcium may increase the risk of dementia for some women.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and dementia

· Women going through menopause choose to use HRT, which is composed of oestrogen.

· Starting HRT earlier could reduce dementia risk.

How sex impacts dementia diagnosis

Oestrogen affects how a woman’s brain grows and functions. Researchers think that this might be the reason why women have a better memory for words and verbal items than men. Women keep these skills even if they have mild memory and thinking changes. The first step in dementia diagnosis is a verbal memory test. This poses a problem for men and women. As women have a strong verbal memory, they tend to do well on memory tests, even if they have cognitive problems. This means they are under diagnosed with dementia.

What is Mental Stimulation?

Mental Stimulation is a lifestyle that is maintained by exciting the brain, engaging in different activities that stretch the natural threshold and push the brain to change. Building cognitive reserve is one of the modifiable risk factors for dementia. The stronger and wider the connections in your brain are, the healthier your brain can be.

How to achieve brain health?

First, you need to be aware of your personal risk factors.

Healthy eating and physical activity are the first building blocks. Mental stimulation is achieved by engaging in new and exciting activities. When we repeat an activity 66 times over a three month period we can start developing new connections in our brain. The more connections an individual has in his or her brain, the better the brain is equipped in successfully managing neurodegenerative diseases.

How would you know how to stretch your brain?

We all have a comfort zone where we operate and manage our day to day activities. Managing those activities does not stretch the brain. Reading a book, playing your guitar or going for a run are all activities that are within your comfort zone, even doing Sudoku.

Stretching your brain ability is an uncomfortable feeling--just like when you physically push yourself in the gym. The same idea applies when you stretch your cognitive ability and build cognitive reserve.

Suggested activities to start:

● Brush your teeth with your less dominant hand

● Put on your shoes in a different order

● Sit at a different place at the dinner table

● Take a different seat in the living room

● Do your weekly shopping from the end of the route instead of the beginning of your usual route.

Each one of those activities will require you to stop, focus, concentrate, think and only then act.

These are only short activities, but they will teach you how it feels to stretch your cognitive ability.

You can then try and introduce new activities to your life. You only need to remember that in order to build cognitive reserve, you really need to work hard. Any activity that does not require you to stop, focus, concentrate, think and only then act is not the right activity to build your cognitive reserve.

In order to learn more about how to build your cognitive reserve and to help you delay or prevent dementia, please get in touch with us a tinfo@dementiapreventionuk.com, visit our website dementiapreventionuk.com, or follow us on social media.

FB page: DementiaPreventionUk

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