Prevention and Cognitive Exercises for Memory
As the focus of healthcare shifts toward wellness and prevention, it’s important for us as healthcare professionals to acknowledge and address this change in our practice. Our scope of practice is incredibly wide! It’s easy to narrow our own focus to just diagnosis and treatment when presented with patient after patient already diagnosed with something preventable, or with something that could have been delayed.
As a speech therapist, I think specifically of the many Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia patients I have worked with and realize there is much we can do that is within our scope of practice to provide education around cognitive exercising and prevention.
Promote a focus on mental fitness throughout life. Brains kept sharp from solving new challenges are better equipped to delay diseases like dementia and AD. Recommend games and social activities that build up cognitive reserve, consequently slowing down the cognitive aging process1, while promoting resiliency and flexibility.
These are examples of preventative tasks that offer the best chance for a healthy brain throughout life2:
- Puzzles – The type of puzzle does not matter as much as the frequency of the task. Daily interactions with word, picture or number puzzles help maintain healthy nerve functions. Rotating between types of puzzles (ex: crosswords, suduko, jigsaw, word finds, detective problems) will “exercise” different areas of the brain.
- Read – Reading daily can prevent the onset of AD and even slow progression of the disease. Older adults who read regularly are two-and-a-half times less likely to have the disease3.
- Learn – Learning is a way of improving long-term memory function, which can help delay the onset of dementia. A healthy thirst for knowledge and intellectual activities is the pathway to a healthy brain. Promote the learning of a new skill or complex craft or the enrollment in free or low-cost local or online classes.
- Language – Learning in general is powerful, but learning a new language is an incredibly strong intellectual workout for the brain. Bi-lingual adults are found to have better cognitive abilities than monolingual adults, including focus, attention and memory. According to the American Academy of Neurology, being bi-lingual could postpone the onset of dementia and AD by as much as four-and-a-half years.
Certain foods have the power to delay cognitive decline and increase your focus and mental clarity4:
- Blueberries – Anthocyanin and vitamin E protect against cellular damage.
- Dark Leafy Greens – Folate and B9 improve cognition.
- Omega-3 Fatty acids – Improves brain function and fights against decline in cognition and memory.
- Nuts – Another source for Omega-3s, vitamin E and Folate.
- Cruciferous vegetables – Carotenoids lower homo-cysteine, an amino acid that leads to cognitive impairment.
According to the National Alzheimer’s Association, physical activity is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. Encourage patients and community members to exercise and maintain healthy bodies starting earlier in life, so the risk of AD is lowered later in life.
- Exercise – Participating in cardiovascular and aerobic exercise will increase the amount of blood and oxygen flow to the brain, reducing dementia risk factors. As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking a few times a week can improve cognitive function.
- Yoga – Not only does yoga alleviate stress and negativity, it actually increases neuroplasticity and protects against age-related decline5.
- Sleep – Restless sleep affects cognitive function the following day. Finding a way to get adequate periods of restorative sleep (try napping or sleep in four-hour periods) plays an important role in brain health. Recent research shows that good, restorative sleep cleanses the body of amyloid-beta, an AD and dementia-contributing protein6.
This year, let’s weigh prevention and education as equally important as treatment.