WEL­COME TO OUR SPE­CIAL ON BRAIN HEALTH

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - ART & MUSIC - JUST BREATHE

YOU are not stuck with the brain you have. That is the most im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion to take away from the ex­perts who share their ap­proaches to brain health over the fol­low­ing pages. The old idea that your brain power peaks in your teens or twen­ties and then grad­u­ally slides into an ir­re­versible de­cline no longer holds true.

Sci­ence now tells us that the brain is an adapt­able, dy­namic and re­new­able or­gan. It re­sponds to what we do, what we think about, what we eat, and what we ex­pose it to — whether that is en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tants or happy thoughts.

In the US and UK a num­ber of ex­perts have taken this a stage fur­ther and have de­vel­oped pro­grammes to en­hance brain func­tion, to iden­tify early warn­ing sig­nals or to help re­verse the signs of cog­ni­tive de­cline.

Chief among them is Dr Dale Bre­desen, Pro­fes­sor of Neu­rol­ogy at the David Gef­fen School of Medicine UCLA, pres­i­dent of the Buck In­sti­tute for Re­search on Age­ing and au­thor of a fas­ci­nat­ing book, The End of Alzheimer’s (Ver­mil­ion, €20.99) which was pub­lished last year and has al­ready been trans­lated into 26 lan­guages.

Some peo­ple, he says, show the first signs of cog­ni­tive de­cline as early at their for­ties and fifties. As a re­sult, Dr Bre­desen rec­om­mends that ev­ery­one over age 45 goes to their GP for what he calls ‘a cognoscopy’ — a se­ries of sim­ple blood tests that will show mark­ers for var­i­ous con­di­tions that could raise your risk of Alzheimer’s. He also rec­om­mends tak­ing one of the many free on­line cog­ni­tive as­sess­ments, such as Sage.

“That will give you an idea of where you stand,” he says. “One of the prob­lems is that you can have cog­ni­tive de­cline sneak up on you.”

Dr Bre­desen has de­vel­oped a com­pre­hen­sive 36-point pro­to­col to tackle Alzheimer’s — in­clud­ing sim­ple life­style changes — that he claims can pre­vent and even re­verse some of the symp­toms of cog­ni­tive de­cline as­so­ci­ated with the dis­ease. To date, he has con­ducted a study of 10 pa­tients which showed sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in the symp­toms of nine of them within three to six months. Dr Bre­desen is now poised to con­duct a larger trial of 50 peo­ple and is about to pub­lish a pa­per doc­u­ment­ing im­prove­ments in a fur­ther 100 peo­ple who fol­lowed the pro­gramme. “Times are chang­ing dra­mat­i­cally,” he says. “This idea that there is noth­ing you can do to pre­vent or re­verse Alzheimer’s is out of date now — that is 20th cen­tury medicine. There’s a lot you can do and peo­ple are show­ing this re­peat­edly.”

Those who fol­low his pro­to­col ben­e­fit in all sorts of ways: “Many end up be­ing able to stop their hy­per­ten­sives, their anti-di­a­betic drugs and their statins, be­cause when you do the right things, you ac­tu­ally don’t need them.”

But you needn’t nec­es­sar­ily be suf­fer­ing from cog­ni­tive de­cline to want to build a bet­ter brain — as we show over the fol­low­ing pages.

Dr Daniel Amen is qual­i­fied as both an adult and child psy­chi­a­trist in the US, has pub­lished 10 New York Times best­sellers and spe­cialises in brain dis­or­ders. He is also a firm be­liever in op­ti­mis­ing brain health at any stage of life.

“I know it sounds weird but a lot of the risk fac­tors ac­tu­ally hap­pen be­fore peo­ple are 25, so tak­ing a whole-life ap­proach to keep­ing your brain healthy is es­sen­tial.”

He points to the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy on the brain. “With the in­ter­net, the hu­man at­ten­tion span has shrunk so low that a lot of peo­ple are com­plain­ing about mem­ory. If you think about it, be­cause of your mo­bile phone, you don’t have to re­mem­ber num­bers like you used to.”

Tech­nol­ogy, he says, is even in­flu­enc­ing the stage at which de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s are di­ag­nosed. “In the past, the fam­ily would call up and say: ‘My mum got lost in the city she’s lived in for 30 years and she’s hys­ter­i­cal. Some­thing’s wrong.’ Now that same woman, whose mem­ory is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, all she has to do is ask Siri to take her home. We’re not ac­tu­ally di­ag­nos­ing peo­ple un­til later in the process, when it’s harder to do some­thing about it.”

He has de­vel­oped an ap­proach to op­ti­mis­ing brain health in his book, Mem­ory Res­cue: Su­per­charge Your Brain, Re­verse Mem­ory Loss, and Re­mem­ber What Mat­ters Most (Tyn­dale, €14.99) with ad­vice on how to ad­dress risk fac­tors.

“If you want to keep your brain healthy or res­cue it if it’s headed for trou­ble, you have to pre­vent or treat the 11 ma­jor risk fac­tors that steal your mind,” he says. He shares some of his key in­ter­ven­tions over the fol­low­ing pages.

Mean­while, this pre­ven­ta­tive ap-

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