Brain Awareness Week is March 10-16, 2014.
There are recommendations for brain health for people with Parkinson's, dementia, stroke, MS, autonomic disorders, headache, epilepsy. Some of these recommendations are specific to the diagnosis, but most brain health recommendations apply to folks with any of the neurological diagnoses. And, indeed, they apply to all of us. Here are some of my favorites.
Physical exercise is good for the brain. It can improve the efficiency of your brain cells. Bringing oxygen to the brain through regular, fairly intense exercise will improve mood and thinking.
Mental exercise is just as important. While word games like crossword puzzles will make us better at crossword puzzles, a higher level of mental exercise is recommended. It is important to learn to do new things, rather than continuing to perform already-learned skills. Just trying to learn to play a musical instrument or speak another language activates many parts of the brain. The benefit is not in perfecting the skill but in trying to learn it. The same applies to learning to juggle (start passing two rolled socks from one hand to the other), learning to play a new game, and learning to send/receive e-mail. Our brains are never too old to learn something new.
Creative expression distinguishes us as human beings. It contributes largely to the quality of our lives. Creative endeavors allow us to think more deeply and in a focused manner. Explore options like writing, painting, photography, ceramics, knitting, singing or any number of other creative possibilities.
Stress can make existing neurological symptoms worse. (PD patients see increased slowness and tremor when under stress, and stress exacerbates headaches.) Relaxation techniques help us manage stress in a positive way. Guided imagery, breath work and yoga are just some of the mind/body practices that relieve stress. They are called "practices" because we need to practice them regularly!
Nutrition affects our physical and mental health. Research the “super foods” and decide to include them in your diet – every day. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids. Omega 3-rich fish like wild salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel can help not only our heart, joints and memory but there is evidence that they can reduce depression. Omega 3 is also found in flax seed, walnuts and fortified eggs. Look into the "Mediterranean Diet." A diet high in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, may be beneficial in reducing blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. When thinking about nutrition, also be aware of hydration. Dehydration can produce constipation and even confusion.
Get enough sleep. The brain is busy sending and receiving millions of messages every day. Sleep gives it a chance to regroup and consolidate information. Develop a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Keep lighting and noise at comfortable levels. Set the thermostat to a slightly cooler bedroom temperature. Read up on "sleep hygiene" and discover what you require to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
Stay social. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh and smile. Plan a trip. Plan a party, and invite the neighbors. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Engage in conversations with a wide variety of people: family, friends and strangers. We can really "learn something new" from talking and listening to others!
Empower yourself to take an active role in caring for your amazing brain.