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BOOST YOUR BRAINPOWER

Sharpen your cognitive health no matter what your age.

by Joan Teotico

SEPTEMBER 2012

You’ve just been introduced to seven people at a party but your memory fogs. Several passwords later, you fail to log in to your email and social media sites. Does forgetfulness mean your brain health has gone poor?

“It depends on the relative frequency and degree of forgetfulness. Age-related cognitive decline or memory impairment is more obviously seen in persons as they reach age 60. The occasional forgetfulness is accepted as normal part of aging process,” explains Alejandro Diaz, M.D., F.P.N.A., consultant in St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City’s Institute for Neurosciences and an associate professor at UST.

Doing several tasks simultaneously may also impact our memory and concentration. “People nowadays are too busy—doing two or more tasks at the same time. Thus, attention is divided retaining only one task done,” says Maria Annette De Guzman-Bautista, M.D., current president of the Philippine Neurological Association. If you can’t remember where you placed your car keys because you were talking over the phone, reconsider before you talk to someone on the phone while replying to emails.


Factors in forgetting

According to both experts, there are modifiable and non-modifiable factors that contribute to mental decline and memory loss. The latter factors are:

• age;

• genetic susceptibility;

• certain infections of the brain like viral encephalitis;

• stroke resulting in vascular dementia;

• brain injury such as brain trauma; and

• neurodegenerative diseases.


Modifiable risk factors include:

• unhealthy diet;

• smoking and consumption of alcohol;

• physical and mental inactivity;

• diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and metabolic syndrome;

• exposure to high stress levels;

• history of depression;

• history of stroke or cardiovascular diseases like hypertension; and

• increased cholesterol.



Build mental muscle

Dr. Diaz cites a study published in the British Medical Journal: “Results showed that memory, reasoning and comprehension started to slip as early as age 45. This is contrary to the common knowledge that mental decline starts at age 60.”

Build cognitive power now with these easy ways:

• Engage your mind with games and puzzles. According to a study published online in the journal Neurology, answering crossword puzzles and playing board games help prevent mental health decline as we age. “Games and puzzles may be helpful if they can keep the mind occupied, and there is variety involved,” says Dr. De Guzman-Bautista, who suggests playing card games, bingo and Scrabble, but advises avoiding “computer games that are just repetitive and do not require much analysis.”


• Have a cup of joe. “Caffeine helps protect the brain against neurodegeneration,” says Dr. Diaz. He cites a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease: “Patients with mild cognitive impairment who maintained plasma caffeine level greater than 1200 ng/ml [equivalent to] two to four cups of coffee per day avoided progression to dementia in the ensuing two to four years.” Keep your caffeine consumption moderate if you have a medical conditions.


• Include good fat in your diet. The Harvard School of Public Health lists the following food sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids: fish, vegetable oils, walnuts, flax seeds and leafy vegetables. “Avoid saturated fats which will destroy the inner linings of our blood vessels—the endothelium—and lead to atherosclerosis,” Dr. Diaz warns.


• Acquire new knowledge, whether it’s learning a foreign language, a new musical instrument or wine and gourmet chocolate pairing. “Every time we learn new things and acquire new experiences, the synaptic connections inside the brain are enhanced. Therefore, the network connections in our brain get stronger,” says Dr. Diaz. So keep learning, practicing and doing new things every day to “strengthen the connections between neurons responsible for a certain task and other neighboring neurons (neuronal plasticity). The old adage, ‘Either you use it or you lose it,’ applies appropriately to our memory,” Dr. Diaz points out.  


Sleep, stress and sedentary lifestyle are other things you can work on to keep your cognitive health from declining. Read more about these in the September issue of HealthToday, out now in major bookstores and newsstands.























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