You can AGE PROOF YOUR BRAIN
Beat these surprising dementia triggers and keep your mind fit and firing.
There is now plenty of evidence that the habits we adopt in our daily life play a major part in how well we age. For example, we all know that sun exposure can affect the state of our skin, and we’re aware that how much we exercise plays a major role in our overall health. So it is with our brain, says Professor Henry Brodaty, co-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of NSW. “Your brain is an intricate and vast network containing over a billion neurons – nerve cells that are connected in multiple ways. So to boost brain health and protect against dementia it’s important to adopt habits that help slow ageing. These also reduce risk of vascular damage, which can cause arteries in your brain to start to thicken so that fewer nutrients get through.”
Here’s how to avoid five triggers that can have an impact on your ‘think tank’.
Regular brushing and flossing helps protect you from gum disease (you’ve seen the toothpaste ads) – what they don’t say is that it has also been linked to brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s.
Gingivitis (the mildest form of gum disease) occurs when a layer of germs builds up on the teeth along the gumline, causing irritation, bleeding and sometimes, swelling. This layer can harden into tartar, which needs to be removed by a dentist. If not treated, periodontitis can occur, causing receding gums and bacteria-filled pockets leading to inflammatory chemicals entering the bloodstream and migrating to the brain, where they can contribute to the development of dementia. Age-proof your brain
Give your gums more attention: Gum disease affects around 23 per cent of Aussies and that figure jumps to 53 per cent in Australians over the age of 65. “Brush your teeth at least twice a day and use floss and interdental brushes daily to get rid of food trapped between your teeth and gums,” says Dr Peter Chuang, dentist and member of the oral health committee for the Australian Dental Association. “Using a tongue scraper daily also helps reduce bacteria.” Make sure you have your teeth cleaned every six months by your dentist or dental hygienist. “If your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, see your dentist as soon as possible,” adds Chuang.
Is your snoring so loud it’s the butt of jokes?
Does it lead you to wake gasping or snorting throughout the night? Then you may have sleep apnoea. According to the Australasian Sleep Association, less obvious signs of sleep apnoea include morning headaches, day-time sleepiness, high blood pressure and trouble concentrating. Over time this repeated oxygen deprivation may cause shrinkage of the brain’s temporal lobes, causing a decline in memory and compromising your ability to learn new things, research from the University of Sydney shows.
Age-proof your brain
Don’t ignore chronic snoring: Ask your GP for referral to a sleep specialist who can conduct an overnight sleep study. For decades the ‘go-to’ treatment for sleep apnoea has been the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a machine that provides steady air pressure and oxygen via a mask you wear while sleeping. Newer treatments are becoming available to keep the airways open, including a disposable device placed in the nostrils and implantable nerve stimulators. Meanwhile, as repeated snoring can damage the soft palate of the mouth and increase the risk of apnoea, reduce triggers, such as alcohol intake and weight gain.
Extra weight around your tummy ramps up your risk of developing dementia as you age, research from Boston University shows. “People carrying excess body fat around their abdomen are also likely to be insulin resistant,” says Ngaire Hobbins, dietitian and author of the books Eat To Cheat Ageing and Eat to Cheat Dementia. “High insulin levels are usually a sign of elevated blood sugars, which can cause inflammation that damages the tiny blood vessels of the brain and may also lead to an accumulation of amyloid and tau proteins, which have both been linked to developing dementia.” Age-proof your brain
Eat to beat inflammation: “Eat fewer processed foods– their high levels of fats, sugar and salt increase inflammation,” Hobbins says. Also avoid overcooking and charring meat and remove burnt bits before eating. Burning and high heat increases inflammatory chemicals. “At every meal aim to eat five or six different coloured foods – the antioxidants help combat inflammation, protect cells and promote efficient bloodflow throughout the brain,” she says. Think colourful fruit and veg such as broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, bananas and berries. “They boost levels of vitamin A, C and E, which protect memory and cognitive function,” Hobbins adds. “They also help maintain a healthy weight.”
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
A staggering 68 per cent of Australians have uncontrolled or unmanaged high blood pressure, according to the Heart Foundation. And while it’s often associated with the risk of heart attack and stroke, research shows it may also reduce blood flow to the brain, leading to memory loss, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Hypertension can lead to changes in the brain similar to those caused by a stroke,” Brodaty says. “It may also damage small arteries that nourish the cells that relay information inside the brain.” Age-proof your brain
Eat potassium-rich foods: They could be a secret weapon against high blood pressure, US research shows. “Potassium plays a major role in normalising blood pressure and can counter the effects of a high salt intake,” says dietitian Brooke Longfield. “Foods high in potassium include sweet potato and potato, avocado, spinach, bananas and legumes such as lentils and chickpeas.”