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The Power of Non-Pharmacological Interventions in Improving Brain Health

By Nikhil Mehta

Pharmacological intervention has traditionally been the first-line treatment for individuals with neurocognitive disorders, but the benefits of medications currently on the market are generally minimal and/or temporary. In recent years, however, numerous scientific studies have shown that various types of behavioral and cognitive interventions may slow the progression of degenerative neurocognitive disorders. For one, the ACTIVE study funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that older adults who participated in certain cognitive training exercises reported long-term benefits of decreased functional decline.

Activities that focus on overall brain health can benefit everyone – from those who are cognitively healthy and want to maintain their mental acuity to those who are currently experiencing cognitive decline. The MacArthur Foundation Study of Successful Aging suggests that genetics are responsible for only one-third of the equation with respect to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In light of such research findings, a comprehensive approach to brain health, encompassing behaviors that positively influence overall health and quality of life, may help build reserves in people who are cognitively healthy or may slow down the decline of cognitive health. Such activities should target various cognitive and non-cognitive domains, and should be personalized based on an individual’s history, strengths and weaknesses, personality and interests with adjustments over time to meet the individual’s changing needs.

Cognitive activities can be in the form of puzzles, games and mental exercises which have varying levels of difficulty and, while being challenging, should also be enjoyable. The focus of the activities should be on the thought process rather than on finding the right answer. The person undergoing such activities should be having fun and feeling confident.

A holistic approach to brain health grounded in scientific research should also include non-cognitive activities that support brain health and quality of life in addition to cognitive stimulation and rehabilitation.

Cognitive activities should engage the following five domains: memory, or the ability to retain information and utilize it later; executive functioning of abilities such as reasoning, problem solving, judgement and thought flexibility; attention, or the ability to focus on a specific piece of information for a long period of time while ignoring distractions; language, which includes the ability to execute verbal functions such as spontaneous speech, speech repetition, speech comprehension, naming, reading and writing; and visual-spatial perception, which involves the ability to accurately perceive an object’s physical location and to understand the relationships between objects.

Non-cognitive activities should include coping, social engagement, sensory activities, recreational activities, physical activities and diet: Coping activities such as reminiscing help manage stress levels and promote emotional stability; social engagement (conversation) helps us feel connected to the world and reduces stress; sensory activities can be auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile or mobile in nature, or engage multiple senses; recreational activities can improve mood and quality of life; physical exercise can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and helps improve mood; and diet should include brain-healthy foods including Omega-3 rich fish, nuts and green leafy vegetables.

Nikhil Mehta is Owner/CEO of Home Care Assistance Palm Desert, a revolutionary in-home care group which offers clients The Cognitive Therapeutic Method™, a non-pharmacological program developed by professors and medical professionals.  For more information visit www.HomeCareAssistancePalmDesert.com or call (760) 345.0001.

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