Build a Healthier Brain
As we grow old, losing our memory is not inevitable and dementia is not normal. The way to a better brain lies in our hands. This is the central message from Hello Brain, a website and app that shows us how to boost our brain’s health.
“A key message is that the brain is plastic and can change right across your life span, even late in life,” explains Sabina Brennan at Trinity College Dublin’s Institute of Neuroscience.
“There is a really interesting concept called cognitive reserve. It seems that certain lifestyle factors can offer you protection against decline.
So it is possible to be proactive about brain health,” says Brennan, who was coordinator of the project, which was funded by the European Commission.
It seems that a vibrant brain is also better able to cope with shocks or disease, building connections around any obstacles and continuing on. This may be why some brains show all the signs of Alzheimer’s yet their owners show no symptoms of the disease.
“Our top tips are to get physically active, stay socially engaged and challenge your brain. Attitude is important too – managing stress, thinking young, thinking positive and lifestyle changes,” Brennan adds.
Hello Brain advises people to keep socially active and challenge themselves, perhaps by learning a musical instrument or language, or reading a book from part of the library or bookshop you would usually overlook.
Physical activity is also good for your brain – it gets the blood pumping and your brain helps itself to its share of nutrients and oxygen. And sleep is a tonic for memories and brain health.
“People should dip in and out of the website to find information. There are also small films to explain the science behind these things. The app offers little daily suggestions,” explains Brennan.
Small steps – scheduling a pleasant event, smiling at least five times today, focusing on the moment, taking a break from processed foods for one day or going for a walk – will leave the brain better able to age healthily and perhaps even ward off diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Many of us need to throw off the shackles of ageism, Hello Brain advises. Thinking “old” is bad for your brain.
“We can expect to experience a general slowing and also some decline in memory of recent events, but that is more about attention and absentmindedness than memory problems,” Brennan explains.
Our ability to recall concepts and general facts often improves as we mature, so it is not all downhill by any means, she concludes.