Many people think of a healthy brain as an aging-related issue, but nurses know how important brain health is across the life span. Some of the habits and practices people develop early in life can impact their brain health decades later. If you know of a few habits you’d like to change, it’s never too late to start focusing on small steps to get you to a goal.
There are many diseases, conditions, and stages that impact the brain–including Alzheimer’s, stroke, injury, or even menopause–so supporting your brain health is essential. Luckily, it’s not an all-or-nothing approach.
Keep Everything Moving
Whether it’s your body with physical activity or your brain with mental activity, staying in motion and engaged with the world makes a difference. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the brain benefits from all the good things you do for the rest of your body. Keeping your body healthy with exercise also keeps your brain healthy, so continue to keep moving. And you don’t have to run marathons or bike dozens of miles. Taking a short walk on most days is more important for your brain than running 10 miles twice a month.
Stay Socially Connected
If you’re going for a walk, invite a friend. Prefer to walk alone? Call someone you’d like to catch up with this week. Even a short 15-minute phone call with someone you care about delivers important brain benefits. You’ll reduce stress, maintain those important connections, and probably laugh–one of the most healing parts of friendships.
Be Open to Learning
Our brains like new stimulation and, in fact, thrive on it. New activities, unusual facts, a different hobby, or learning a new language all bestow a real impact on the brain. As you learn something new, you’re forcing the brain to adapt and that helps keep your mind sharp. Like the other suggestions, this habit doesn’t require a lot of time. You can spend a half hour on your commute listening to podcasts about something you know nothing about or to begin the foundation of understanding a new language. You can try a new route to a familiar place or see how well you do at crosswords or Wordle. Resist the urge to stick with what’s familiar–shaking things up rewards you in many ways.
See Sleep as Medicine
If someone said you can take a pill to help prevent memory loss, improve your mood, and even keep your weight regulated, would you do it? If you start to look at sleep as medicine, you’ll realize why prioritizing your sleep can improve the quality of your life now and in the future. Even young, busy nurses should realize that a bad night’s sleep can have a significant impact on their on-the-job tasks as it can dull your ability to remember and recall important tasks the next day. Start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier and resisting the urge to watch one more show or scroll through one more post. Sleep and brain health are closely linked.
Keeping your brain healthy is important throughout your life. It’s always a good time to make changes–and any change is better than no change at all. The benefits are worth it now, and your future self will thank you.
June is recognized as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month and during this month nurses act as excellent resources for their patients.
Whether your primary patient population is young or old, education about taking care of this essential organ is important. And while Alzheimer’s disease causes the biggest impact on those 65 and older, early onset Alzheimer’s devastates families as well.
Alzheimer’s and dementia, although not the same, are related. Both conditions affect the brain because they are related to damage of the brain’s cells, but neither is actually a normal result of growing older.
Although Alzheimer’s has no cure, many experts believe that protecting brain health can help delay it or possibly avoid it. There’s no magic, however, as so many varied factors can weigh into whether or not someone develops particular brain diseases.
Because there are still so many unanswered questions, anything that can help brain health is worthwhile for people who have concerns about these conditions. Many times, anything that protects health in general, especially heart health, is good for the brain. Talking to patients about the importance of taking care of themselves in general, from food choices to protecting against preventable head injury, can lead into conversations and education about how to do that in everyday activities.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease, a specific brain disease. Dementia, on the other hand, is characterized by general symptoms of decline in thinking, including the memory issues that many people begin to worry about as they age, but it doesn’t always mean someone has Alzheimer’s.
What can impact someone’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s? Advancing age is a risk factor as more cases of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, show up in older people. But a family history can indicate a genetic risk for developing the disease. People who are Black or Latinx also have greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, so education about heart health and controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and getting heart-pumping activity can go a long way to helping keep hearts and brains healthy.
Although no one can cure Alzheimer’s yet, research is ongoing into medications and treatments that offer much hope for a cure. In the meantime, if patients ask what they can do, there’s plenty you can tell them. They can get involved in advocacy on the local, state, and national level. That could mean advocating for residents of a long-term care facility in their hometown or getting involved on a national scale to pass legislation that impacts the research and the people affected by Alzheimer’s and brain health in general. There are many clinical trials run through the Alzheimer’s Association, the Mayo Clinic, and the National Institute on Aging, among others that need people who might offer clues into the disease, whether they have a brain disease or not.
Patients can also learn what they can do to help their own brain health. Small things like ensuring rugs are not trip hazards, clearing walkways of snow and ice, wearing a seatbelt always, and being aware of sports with high concussion risk such as football or soccer can help prevent the injury that can lead to cell damage.
During June, have conversations with your patients to help get them started on a path that boosts their brain health.
Alzheimer’s disease and other brain conditions and diseases continue to affect ever-greater numbers of people. And while scientists are making advances in treatments, the cure for these complex, devastating diseases is still uncertain.
But there are things you can do to protect your brain health. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to check in on your own self-care and also to see how your patients are taking care of their brain health. African Americans and Latinos bear greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than older whites, so it’s especially important for some minority populations to understand their increased risk.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is not a normal aging process that happens to everyone as they get older. People may have typical memory slips, but Alzheimer’s involves much more than just forgetting where you put your keys.
With early detection, Alzheimer’s treatment can begin earlier and hopefully slow the progression, but as of right now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
Learn the Signs
There are warning signs for Alzheimer’s that will let you know you, a loved one, or a patient is struggling with more than a little memory loss. While it’s normal aging to forget someone’s name, it’s not normal aging to forget who the person is. Other things to consider are disruptive mood changes (more than irritability about the dog walker being late), poor self care, and severe confusion about where they are or even what year it is.
Know How to Protect Your Brain
Experts say what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. Take care of yourself by getting rest, eating nutritious foods, socializing with people you enjoy, staying hydrated, not smoking, drinking alcohol minimally, and keeping at a healthy weight and blood pressure. But there’s more you can also do. Keep your brain active. As a nurse, you’re days are hardly ever the same and that’s good for your brain. Check in with your patients to see if they are keeping their brains stimulated with anything from hobbies to social clubs to trying new puzzles, reading or listening to new books, or even listening to unfamiliar music.
Brain injury is serious and some of it is preventable. Wear a helmet while biking, skiing, skateboarding, rollerblading, for any extreme sports, or riding a motorcycle or ATV (and make sure family members and friends do the same). Always wear a seat belt in the car. Check your home for tripping dangers like loose carpets, items on the stairs, or things on the floors. Take care in winter weather for icy spots. Anything you can do to prevent brain injury is good for both your long-term and short-term brain health.
Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases are a real health threat to all aging Americans, so you have a right to be concerned. But there are promising therapies on the horizon and there are things you can do now to help protect yourself as much as is possible. Spread the word about brain health and chat about it with your patients to pass along a few tips.
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