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.

Summer Travel Tips for Older Adults

Krupa Shah, MDKrupa Shah, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor

University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry
Division of Geriatrics & Aging, Department of Medicine
Rochester, New York

According to a survey conducted by AARP, those age 50 or older take on average six non-business related trips at least 50 miles from home each year.  And Travelzoo, Inc, a global internet media company, tells us that 40% of Americans are planning to take more summer vacations compared to last year.  The most popular type of vacation is the road trip, both for a short weekend or for a longer period of time.

Going on vacation can be a much more enjoyable experience with a little advance planning to make sure that we all stay safe and healthy.

  •  Be sure to pack all your medications.  Before you leave, check if you need refills during your trip.  Most pharmacies will accommodate flexible refills when they know you will be travelling away from home. Also carry a list of your current medications, their doses, and the time of day you take them.
  • Remember to actually take all your medications. Vacations often change our normal daily routine. It is important to make time for correct medication use during all the fun and new places that a summer vacation may bring.  Asking others who are with you to help remember, or setting a small timer, carrying a calendar or using a pill organizer may be helpful.
  • Be aware of side effects.  Some medications can cause side effects related to more time outside in the sun, like increased sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It may be helpful to review all medications with your pharmacist, and ask for further consultation with your doctor if you have any questions. Continue reading

It’s Not Normal: Falls

Cleveland, MaryJo 4x6Maryjo L. Cleveland, MD
Medical Director, Post Acute & Senior Services
Chief, Division of Geriatric Medicine
Summa Health System
Akron, Ohio 

It is the middle of winter here in Cleveland and we have experienced an unusual amount of snow, sleet and ice. In fact, if you live anywhere with winter, I’ll bet this weather has been challenging. One problem that we see more of in the winter is falls. I ask all of my patients if they have experienced a fall.  Can you  guess the most common answer I get? It isn’t “no”— it’s “not yet.”  Isn’t that interesting? That answer means that they expect to fall sometime. In other words, they think it’s normal. But we are here to find out otherwise!

Falls are certainly common. Most people can tell you about friends or family members who have fallen and suffered a serious injury from a fall, such as a broken hip. Most people also tell me that falling is one of the things they fear the most. The good news is that while falls are common, they are not inevitable. There are well defined risk factors that make it more likely for someone to fall.   And there are also recommendations on how to prevent falls. These recommendations will require you and your healthcare professional to work closely together.

Continue reading

Heart Healthy Reflections for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a time of flowers, chocolate hearts, and celebrations of love and life.  For thousands of years, the heart has symbolized love and passion and has inspired great poetry, literature, art, and music. But maybe this year we should start a new tradition on Valentine’s Day: To check in with ourselves and those around us to look for signs of heart disease.

There are several types of heart disease, with coronary artery disease being the most common. It is estimated that more than 80 million Americans have at least one major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels.

All told, some one million people a year will die of heart disease. Though one of the risk factors is advancing age, more than 150,000 heart disease and stroke deaths every year are among people younger than 65. With the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes rates in children, we will likely see increased rates of heart disease and stroke occurring at earlier ages. Continue reading

My Favorite Time of Year…

This time of year has always been one of my favorites. It’s a time when things slow down a bit, allowing more time with family and friends – time to catch up, celebrate cherished rituals, and enjoy favorite foods and one another’s company. But while this can be a wonderful time of year, it can also be challenging, particularly for older adults.

For some older people, the end of another year can be a powerful reminder of how many years have already passed. Traditions like lighting the menorah candles or decorating the Christmas tree may bring to mind family and friends who are no longer with us. For some older adults, health problems can make it difficult, or perhaps impossible, to travel to traditional get-togethers with relatives and old friends. All of these things can contribute to the “holiday blues” or, more seriously, depression.

In colder parts of the country older adults may face other challenges. Older people run higher risks of injuries while shoveling snow, for example, and are more likely to develop frostbite and hypothermia –  a life-threating condition in which your body temperature drops to dangerous levels. Snow and icy weather can also put older adults at risk of falls and fractures.

The good news, however, is that there are many things older people, and their caregivers, can do to help address these problems. And you’ll find them on healthinaging.org – the source of a wealth of easy-to-read health information for seniors that’s reviewed by leading experts in elder health. These include:

You’ll also find 10 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Older Adults on healthinaging.org. I recommend it for adults of all ages. In fact, I’ve resolved to make a few of the ten my own this New Year.

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy season!