March 31, 2013

Brain Exercises and Foods

Morrison,-Bob-colorBy Bob Morrison
Development Director of Ridgecrest Village

The Dakin Brain Fitness touch screen computer is helping seniors keep their brain sharp. At Ridgecrest Village, we have two of these motivating machines. Seniors play fun scenarios, such as clips from Jimmy Stewart movies; then answer questions about what they saw. Questions like; was it morning, afternoon, or evening? Was Jimmy happy, curious, or angry?

Their research shows participants can greatly reduce the beginnings of dementia by simply exercising their brain with these games. They give little known facts about past presidents, and then ask you to match the stories with the correct President. They show different shapes, and then ask you to point out what is different or left out with the next picture. All of the programs are fun and stimulating.

New programming is downloaded each night at 11 p.m., so the next day is new with fresh ideas. It is recommended that seniors try this enjoyable exercise four or five times each week, with sessions that last about 20 minutes.

Another helpful hint is to watch for foods that keep your brain healthy. Rita Alman, from Sunrise Senior Living, is Vice-President of Memory Care Services. She warns about eating food that hinders your brain.

Complex carbohydrates are foods such as pasta, bread and white rice that quickly turn into sugars when digested as a result of their high glycemic index. When consumed in excess, these types of carbohydrates have an unhealthy effect on the body and brain, including increasing insulin resistance and contributing to obesity, which we know may lead to a number of health issues. In fact, obesity is a major risk factor for developing Type 2 Diabetes, and people with diabetes are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.

Some researchers even refer to Alzheimer’s disease as Type 3 Diabetes, as studies have shown that there are low levels of insulin in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. Insulin is necessary for brain cells to absorb glucose, a form of sugar that is considered fuel for the brain.
Without enough insulin, the brain cells can be affected resulting in cognitive impairment.

Consuming high amounts of sugar can also cause increased cellular inflammation in the blood vessels as well as contribute to the formation of a beta amyloid plaque in the brain. This plaque is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and is found in the brains of those that develop the disease.

By reducing your intake of foods high in fat and cholesterol, you are actually helping to protect your blood vessels. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol clogs the arteries and is associated with higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Current research indicates that there is a correlation between heart health and brain health. With each heartbeat, our brains receive up to 20 percent of the blood’s oxygen and nutrients. Vascular dementia is the second leading cause of memory loss.

Next time you are in a hurry, go for the healthier option and order a salad filled with nutritious green leafy vegetables known to be good for the brain, rather than fattening fried foods. You also might want to consider using olive oil instead of other forms of oil in your diet, because it contains a compound that has been found to be beneficial to neurons in the brain.

A heart healthy diet is also a brain healthy diet. So do your brain exercises, cut back on sugar and complex carbohydrates and fatty foods, and eat a well-balanced diet. Enhance your future brain health, make your mind feel sharper and help your body feel better.