Raise your hand if you worry about getting dementia. Yeah, me, too. And we’re not alone.
A recent U.K. study says more people are scared of getting neurological disorders like dementia than cancer (45% vs. 35%). Apparently, the people polled would rather endure physical pain and die quicker than have a condition like dementia. There’s a happy thought, huh?
As we baby boomers age, however, the risks become more real. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that the number of Americans over age 65 who’ll be affected by this brain disorder will nearly triple to 13.8 million by 2050.
There is research underway (to read more about what’s happening on this front, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website. And proof continues to mount that consuming a healthy diet, keeping physically active, watching your weight, engaging in brain-stimulating activities such as reading, getting enough sleep, managing stress and staying socially active can help preserve cognition as we age.
I’ve also come across a few studies lately that present some, um, interesting findings about other ways to prevent cognitive decline:
Having sex could help older folks fend off dementia
According to a report in the Daily Mail, researchers from Coventry University discovered that people over 50 who are still active between the sheets have sharper cognitive function than their sex-deprived peers. The tests on more than 6,800 people between the ages of 50 and 89 revealed those who were still getting it on scored better on word recall and pattern recognition. The study suggests the results could be due to the release during sex of hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, which are linked to feelings of reward, promoting memory and learning. Opens up a whole new world of potential come-on lines about unforgettable sex, doesn’t it?
Maple syrup may protect brain cells against neural damage
During the most recent American Chemical Society annual meeting, researchers shared results of studies examining the beneficial effects of pure maple syrup on brain health. The findings suggested that maple syrup extract helped prevent the clumping and tangling in brain cells of tau and beta amyloid, two proteins involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. So far, the studies have only been done in mice. Methinks I’ll conduct my own human study and continue to include maple syrup in my diet. Sweet!
Being too thin at midlife may boost dementia risk
A new study suggests that people who are underweight (defined as having a body mass index—BMI—of less than 20) in their 40s, 50s and 60s were 34% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia up to 15 years later, compared to similarly aged women and men who were a healthy weight. What’s more, people who were heaviest at midlife—with a BMI for 40 or higher—had a 29% lower risk of developing dementia than people whose weight fell into a healthy range. The study co-author is quoted as saying that the findings were unexpected, and the research team hasn’t yet been able to find an explanation for the results. So stop obsessing about getting into those size 0 skinny jeans—our “menopots” could be good for our brain health!
Technology may protect our cognitive abilities
It may seem counterintuitive, but spending time on our smart phones and computers might actually be protecting our cognitive abilities instead of dulling them. A recent study suggests that staying connected with technology as we age forces us to use our minds in different ways, and older people are getting progressively smarter as technology evolves. According to one study author, test scores of people aged 50-plus today correspond to test scores from people four to eight years younger and tested six years earlier—and increasing use of modern technology contributes to this. One caveat: Simply sitting on your arse at a computer all day doesn’t cut it—physical activity and healthy eating should be part of the mix. Reading books is good for brain health, too.
Your job may prevent Alzheimer’s disease
Just as many of us boomers are retiring, along comes a study showing that intellectually stimulating jobs—especially those involving interactions with people—may guard the brain from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Doctor, dentist, lawyer and speech pathologist were among the occupations associated with the strongest protection. Why not, say, a software engineer? The lead researcher attributed this to the complexity of human interaction in real time that the former occupations require vs. the latter. Notably, mentoring is considered to be the most occupationally complex skill, followed by negotiating and instructing. And if you’re not in one of the “protective” professions or you’ve retired? Use those complex skills in your daily life, the researcher suggests. Like negotiating with a spouse and/or tantrum-throwing grandchild, perhaps?
Moderate drinking can reduce Alzheimer’s risk
According to data compiled from 143 studies, moderate drinkers—defined as no more than one drink a day for women and one to two drinks for men—were 23% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or serious memory problems than nondrinkers. A drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer or 1.5 ounces of vodka or other spirits. Conversely, people who drank too much booze (more than three to five drinks per day) had more memory issues and a higher risk for dementia than moderate drinkers. Now this is research I can get behind, inspiring this haiku:
is good for my cognition—
that I’ll remember!
So what do you think? Are you relieved that sex, maple syrup, wine and Facebook apparently are good for our brains? Do you plan to adopt—or increase—any of these brain health-enhancing practices? Want some pancakes?