Pillar One: Social Interactions
Have you watched, or are you caring for, someone you love suffering from declining brain function, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? Watching my grandmother, better known to all as “Nan,” decline to the point where she didn’t recognize me was heartbreaking and motivating.
Loss of our brain health and function is a common fear many of us share. Unfortunately, this is a very real concern; according to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death for adults aged 65 years and older, and the sixth leading cause of death for all adults.1
I’d like to share an important phrase about brain health – loss may be common, but it isn’t normal.
We have options to shape our destiny and the sooner we recognize them and take action, the better.
Current research indicates that a mix of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors influence our brain health. Lifestyle, our daily choices and habits – these are tools in our control to prevent our own mental decline. Staying physically active, making healthy food choices, and not smoking all support brain health, but staying social and participating in activities also supports the brain.
We are fortunate to be living in the Coachella Valley with many opportunities to remain social. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the benefits of staying socially active include a lower risk for developing many health problems including dementia, a longer lifespan, less depression and higher degree of happiness, increased capacity for coping with loss and potential improvement of thinking abilities.2 The NIA mentions studies that link brain health with community and social engagement through work, volunteering, or living with someone.
Loss of hearing or physical movement can also keep us homebound. The inability to hear and engage when in a social setting can be discouraging and cause a higher degree of introversion, leading to faster cognitive decline. A study by Johns Hopkins and the NIA states, “seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing.”3 Get your hearing checked regularly; even the simple intervention of getting hearing aids could delay or prevent dementia.
A healthy brain relies on a large network of neurons communicating and participating effectively with one another like a healthy social network. For our aging population, isolation and loneliness can become common with the loss of a spouse, family and friends. In the November 2016 issue of Alzheimer’s News Today, the article Loneliness and Social Isolation May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that the experience of feeling lonely and socially isolated may play a causative role in Alzheimer’s disease.4 It is not clear whether the stimulation from social activity or the act itself is what keeps the brain healthy, but the combination has been shown to be a positive one. It is important to extend our social reach into the community through work, volunteering, joining a club or group and participating in travel. So get out there! You may actually have some fun and your brain will thank you in the end.
Additional articles on the Six Pillars of Brain Health can be found here.
Deborah Schrameck is a Wholistic Kinesiologist, Health Coach, Nutritional Counselor and Personal Trainer currently working with the Eisenhower Wellness Institute, AcQpoint Acupuncture & Wellness Center and the La Quinta Resort and Club.
References: (1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s Disease: www.cdc.gov/dotw/alzheimers; (2) National Institute on Aging, The Search for Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies: www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/preventing-alzheimers-disease/search-alzheimers-prevention-strategies; (3) Johns Hopkins Medicine, Hearing Loss and Dementia Linked in Study: www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_and_dementia_linked_in_study; (4) Alzheimer’s News Today, Loneliness and Social Isolation May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease: https://alzheimersnewstoday.com/2016/11/16/loneliness-social-isolation-may-be-linked-alzheimers-disease