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How to ease decline in brain function as we age

FitnessNutrition

As we age, our brain function declines with each year. We suddenly can't remembers things and function a little slower than in our younger days. But Dr. Majid Fotuhi, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore, says we can increase brain size, get smarter and measurably improve brain speed.

What happens to the brain as we get older?

After age 50, the memory, problem-solving and language parts of our brain tend to shrink at a rate of about 0.5 percent per year. The connections between different corners of the brain may also thin out and cause difficulty with our ability to function effectively in our day-to-day life. As compared to strong and fit individuals, people who have multiple vascular risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, or sleep apnea, experience an accelerated shrinkage of their brain. The thumb-sized part of our brain involved with memory, called the hippocampus, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of aging and becomes smaller even with factors such as concussion, stress, depression, and vitamin B12 deficiency. As a person's hippocampus shrivels, his/her memory fades.

What can you do to increase brain size and capacity?

Recent scientific discoveries indicate that our hippocampus has the amazing capacity to grow in size over a period of three to six months. The best ways to boost your brain size and capacity are enhancing your physical vigor, memorizing large quantities of information, and maintaining a calm and peaceful mind with the help of meditation. Each of these factors expands the size of your hippocampus, and if your lifestyle includes all of them, then you are on your way to having a strong and healthy brain as you age. If someone is interested in expanding the size of their hippocampus, they should ask their doctor for programs to be apart of. For example, at the NeurExpand Brain Center, we have put together a Brain Fitness Program that incorporate all of the above concepts plus EEG-based neurofeedback — a technique that improves mood and optimizes brain function — that can lead to a remarkable improvement in memory.

What happens to the brain physically when you stimulate it?

Your brain can grow in size with stimulation at any age. When the brain is stimulated with cognitive activities, such as learning a new language, remembering a long list of words, or trying new hobbies, it increases the number of synaptic connections between brain cells. When you enhance your exercise capacity, you literally boost the generation of new brain cells in your hippocampus. Also, meditating increases blood flow to pathways in your brain.

What role can nutrition play in stimulating the growth of brain cells?

Nutrition is a critical component for stimulating the growth of new brain cells, also called neurogenesis. Eating a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps to improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. An omega-3 supplement called DHA has been shown to promote both blood flow and neurogenesis as well as increase the size of the hippocampus. One study ... showed that people who take DHA at a dose of 900 mg per day for six months experienced a remarkable improvement in their memory and were functioning as if they were three to four years younger.

What role can bad habits play in contributing to an unhealthy brain?

People who smoke, possess a sedentary lifestyle, consume a poor diet, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol are at a high risk for rapid brain shrinkage. The harmful effects of these bad habits can accumulate over decades and cause a person to become demented at an earlier age. Fortunately, people who turn around their lifestyle can reverse this damage and rejuvenate their brain.

How do you measure and assess a person's current brain health?

A person's brain health can be measured by a combination of different tests. A brain MRI can show evidence of small strokes that otherwise could not be appreciated by the patient or his/her doctor. A carotid ultrasound can reveal whether or not there is a blockage that reduces blood flow to the brain. Blood tests can determine if there are any vitamin B or D deficiencies or if a person has anemia, liver disease, or other medical conditions that impair brain health. An EEG brain mapping records the overall activity of the different regions of the brain and helps to diagnose depression, attention deficit disorder, or other psychiatric conditions.

A neurologist with expertise in memory and brain health can combine the data from these tests to provide a complete assessment of your brain health.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ankwalker

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