Staying Sharp: Tips to Keep Your Brain Healthy

A great way to keep your mental sharpness at its peak is to think of your brain as a muscle. Just as exercising your muscles helps keep you healthy and active, exercising your brain can help protect your memory and fight the effects of diseases affecting the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

To help keep your mental skills sharp, make these healthy habits part of your daily routine:

Stay in shape. Physical activity isn’t just great for yourmuscles; it’s good for brain power, too. Being active for 30 minutes a day, at least three days a week, helps increase blood flow to the brain to keep it healthy. What’s more, exercise may even help new brain cells to grow! Walking is the perfect exercise for most people—you can walk outdoors on nice days or indoors at a mall or community fitness center. The only equipment you need is a well-fitting, comfortable pair of shoes. Other excellent activities include dancing, gardening, housework, cycling, and swimming.

Get regular health check-ups. High blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and not eating properly can interfere with mental sharpness. See your healthcare provider regularly to make sure your health problems are under control—and to nip any new problems in the bud. To stay on top of your health concerns, make sure to follow your healthcare provider’s advice, too.

Check your meds. Some medications, including ones taken for depression, anxiety, sleeping problems, or pain, can dull your memory. Talk to your healthcare provider about all the medications you may be taking and ask if any could be causing memory issues.

Get plenty of sleep. While you’re sleeping, your brain renews itself, so getting less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night (some people may require more or less sleep) can make it harder to concentrate and stay mentally sharp. Healthy sleep habits include:

  • Shutting off the TV, cell phone, tablet, and computer 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Listening to soft, calming music before bed.
  • Making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks like coffee after 3:00pm.
  • Avoiding heavy meals too close to bedtime.
  • Setting a regular time for going to bed and waking up.

Become a social butterfly. Spending time with others can help keep your brain sharp. You can try volunteering, joining a club, or taking on a part-time job. Sign up for discussion groups at a senior center, or learn how to play bridge or other group games. Doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles are other great options for staying mentally engaged.

Eat a varied diet. Meals that include plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados are good for your brain. Fish is especially important because it contains omega-3 fatty acids, which your brain needs to stay healthy.

Defuse your stress. Stress can make even the sharpest people feel forgetful. Engage in activities that calm you down, such as yoga, prayer, or meditation. Walking in nature is also a great way to relax.

Medicare Proposes Paying for Advance Care Planning

Have you ever wondered about all those codes you see on a bill or chart at your healthcare provider’s office?  If you’re covered by Medicare—the nation’s largest insurer dedicated exclusively to helping older people with their health expenses—chances are they’re part of a payment system known as the physician fee schedule.  Medicare pays eligible providers for their services based on the codes they use to bill for the patient visit.

Each year, experts from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) review, refine, and tweak the types of services included in the physician fee schedule to make it more responsive to patient needs and professional advice. The proposed schedule for 2016 was just released this week, and it’s got some important new updates that will benefit older Americans.  In particular, CMS is now proposing covering advance care planning (ACP), which would offer patients an important outlet for talking with healthcare providers about their long-term needs and expectations.  Many people have questions about what ACP is and how it works, and the infographic below from the American Geriatrics Society is a helpful guide to the basics when it comes to this important new service.

ACP Infographic_07 06 15

Interested in learning more or taking action?  Consider sharing this post or some of the ACP-related resources posted by the Health in Aging Foundation to Twitter (@HealthinAging) and Facebook (  You can also submit a comment of support to CMS to let them know you value ACP as part of your care.

Slashing Budgets Could Cut More Than Just Costs

Ask any mayor, business person, or volunteer coordinator what they’d find most valuable to help their organization grow and their answers would probably focus on a single word: resources. The “three Ts”—time, talent, and treasure—go a long way toward allowing individuals, groups, and even whole communities to operate to their fullest potential. And they’re increasingly important in cases where “demand” must keep up with “supply.”

That’s certainly true for healthcare professionals who are working to keep innovation apace of growth for the older adult population in the U.S. By 2030, the number of people 65-years-old or older in America will exceed 70 million—double the number of older adults in 2000. These men and women will need specially trained professionals who understand how to address the complex healthcare needs of older adults.

Unfortunately, federal budget cuts have impacted not only the number of opportunities for current and future health professionals, but also the research needed to increase and improve our knowledge of aging.

Results of an American Geriatrics Society survey1 reveal how these budget cuts have created serious problems for geriatrics health professionals and the older adults they care for:

  • Job Loss. Nearly 60% of professionals who responded to the survey reported that, in the last five years, federal budget cuts or breaks in grant programs resulted in faculty or research staff lay-offs or the elimination of certain research programs. Specially trained researchers, statisticians, administrative staff, and research nurses were among those most affected. Sadly, these men and women are essential to pushing science and research forward.
  • Investigator Anxiety. The AGS survey indicated that 87% of respondents were also “very” or at least “moderately” worried that funding issues would prevent them from maintaining labs or research programs in the next 10 years. These concerns could discourage experienced and promising young researchers from pursuing careers in geriatrics.
  • Decreased Full-Time Positions. The vast majority of survey participants reported that the number of full-time positions they could offer for people committed to aging research decreased or stayed the same compared to 2008 levels. Little or no job growth can put important advancements at risk and result in fewer young scholars dedicating themselves to working with older adults.

Investments in Aging Research Yield Success
Despite these concerns, federally funded research continues to improve the health of older Americans by creating new models for healthcare, diagnostic methods, and treatment options. Respondents to the AGS survey cited many examples of advances arising from federally funded research, including: Continue reading

Dealing with Delirium: Families Share their Stories

If your loved one suffers a bout of delirium, it can be a frightening and unsettling experience for all concerned. Delirium, a sudden change in mental function, can cause an extreme variety of behavioral changes, ranging from aggressive and agitated to sleepy and inactive—sometimes, even a combination of both.

When delirium occurs after an older person has had surgery, it’s called postoperative delirium. It’s good to know that your hospital’s healthcare providers and your family can work together to help manage and improve delirium, as these family caregivers discovered:

“After he had heart surgery, I noticed that my 86-year-old father was confused and not behaving like himself. Based on the delirium prevention information I found on, I was able to talk with my family and my father’s healthcare team about the signs of delirium and ways we could help my father feel more oriented in his hospital surroundings. We made sure to have family members around him. We read him the newspaper, got him walking, and kept him engaged as much as possible.

I’m pleased to say his recovery has been remarkable. Had his delirium not been addressed so quickly, I know the outcome could have been very different. As a caregiver, I was thrilled to have reliable health information that guided me in asking the right questions of my father’s healthcare providers.”
- Vivien, A Family Caregiver

Continue reading

Remembering Maya Angelou

We at the Health in Aging Foundation are saddened by the loss of Maya Angelou today.  In 2002, we presented Ms. Angelou with the Lifetime of Caring Award for her embodiment of graceful aging.  It was a festive occasion that included Ms. Angelou charming the crowd with a few lines of “This Little Light of Mine” and leading a standing ovation for the Girls Choir of Harlem.  In her remarks she reminded us to live a full, rich life and not take its everyday gifts for granted.  She closed with a few lines from her poem, On Aging.

On Aging

When you see me sitting quietly, like a sack upon a shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.  I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!  Hold!  Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it, otherwise I’ll do without it!

When my bones are stiff and aching and my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:  Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling, don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy and every goodbye ain’t gone.

I’m the same person I was back then, a little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.