March 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm , by Amelia Harnish
Remember that out-there PSA where the guy holds up an egg (your brain) and cracks it into a pan? Then, as the egg fries, he says: “This is your brain on drugs.” Well, it may be time for another “your brain on…” PSA, but this time it would be about how to make your “egg” healthier.
Experts used to think that there was no way to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But a slew of research from the past two years is starting to chip away at that, according to renowned Baltimore neurologist Majid Fotuhi, M.D., a member of our Medical Advisory Board. This week, he published a review in the prestigious journal Nature that covers what you can do to protect your brain from aging and dementia.
“It turns out your brain is not a fixed structure like your nose or ears,” Dr. Fotuhi says. “There are lots of things people can do to expand the size of their brain, and especially the part of their brain responsible for memory, called the hippocampus.”
It almost sounds too simple, but when it comes to your brain, bigger is actually better. Brain shrinkage is one of the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and several studies show having a large hippocampus improves your memory and protects you from dementia. So what works? Here are a few things that can change your brain—in a good way.
Just three months of aerobic exercise can increase the size of your hippocampus enough that it can be seen by the naked eye on a brain scan, according to one study. Walk a mile a day or do 45 minutes of more vigorous aerobic activity three times a week.
Stress and depression can shrink your brain, but meditation may protect you from it. Studies show that people who practice mindful meditation techniques can grow their hippocampus in as little as eight weeks, according to the review.
“Your brain cells are like your muscle cells. Use them or lose them,” Dr. Fotuhi says. By building new connections, your brain gets stronger and stays in shape longer. Take a class in a foreign language, learn to play chess or start reading up on a complicated topic.
For more on Alzheimer’s, read Lauren Bernstein’s darkly funny essay about worrying that every little memory lapse is a sign of impending dementia. How does she keep a sunny outlook when her family history puts her at risk?
Photo copyright pressmaster—Fotolia.com
November 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm , by Amelia Harnish
I’m 23. Am I worried about Alzheimer’s? Not really. But for some time now I’ve had this sinking feeling that I probably should be. My grandmother may not have an official diagnosis yet, but the evidence is starting to pile up. My mom noticed something was wrong when my grandmother started calling about her TV remote not working, and then calling back 10 minutes later as if they’d never spoken. Now she has to be reminded repeatedly where I am: New York. Soon she’ll have to be reminded who I am: Amelia, second grandchild. And after that, who knows, maybe the reminders won’t work anymore.
It’s devastating to watch someone lose their mind, no matter how old they are. Today, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Deaths from Alzheimer’s rose 66 percent between 2000 and 2008, and the disease will continue to affect more people as baby boomers reach 65 and older.
The worst part about Alzheimer’s is that it robs you of your memory and your personality way before it takes your life. Besides wreaking havoc on patients’ and caregivers’ emotional lives, the financial toll is huge. In 2011, Americans will spend $183 billion to care for those with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, we’ll be spending $1.1 trillion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
All this boils down to one thing: we’ve got to act now. We don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s. We don’t know enough about how to prevent Alzheimer’s. And we don’t have effective treatments to even slow it down. We’ve got to figure this out! Read more
July 28, 2010 at 10:10 am , by Julie Bain
If I only had a brain!
That’s Mehmet Oz, M.D., above, showing me how different a healthy brain looks and feels compared with a brain that is riddled with Alzheimer’s disease. It was an amazing lesson: the Alzheimer’s brain was stiff and withered while the healthy brain was plump and soft.
It wasn’t the first such lesson I’d had with Dr. Oz. I met him years ago, before he was a TV star and best-selling author of the You health books. He was just a rock-star heart surgeon then. It was a life-changing experience for me to stand on a stool in his OR and watch him perform open-heart surgery on a young woman (I mentioned that in a blog a while back). At other times with him I was lucky enough to compare a healthy artery with one stiff and coated with calcified plaque—a heart attack in the making. I also got to hold a liver and feel the rock-hard, enormous malignant tumor in it. That poor patient didn’t stand a chance.
These were the best kinds of lessons I could get outside of attending medical school. But holding that diseased brain (which took place at a recent small event in New York on how to keep our brains young) really motivated me. That’s a disease I don’t want to get, and I’m sure you don’t, either! The latest research shows that one way to help avoid Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline in general is aerobic exercise. It’s really one of the most important things we can do for ourselves.
I’ve been a little sedentary the past few weeks, since it’s been the hottest summer on record here in New York City. I’ve found myself making excuses for not exercising. But those brains reminded me that there’s no excuse not to get moving and work up a sweat. In fact, studies show that intense exercise can even make your brain grow. Join me in pledging to get moving, and let’s get smarter together!
SEE LHJ’S EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ON TV
Meanwhile, we have a great story in the magazine this month on how to keep your memory sharp. Read it here. And check out our editor-in-chief Sally Lee’s Today Show appearance with Hoda and Kathie Lee by clicking here. She shares some great tips on how to keep your brain young and strong. Don’t forget to try them!
October 28, 2009 at 8:41 am , by Julie Bain
Chances are you know someone whose family is coping with Alzheimer’s disease. More than 5 million Americans have it. For the millions who are caregivers, it’s normal to feel anger, denial, depression or worse. Many of them probably don’t want to be reminded that November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
“But this disease has been in the closet too long,” says Southern California photographer Judith Fox, whose new book, I Still Do: Loving and Living with Alzheimer’s, is an inspiration. She wants to remove the stigma and sense of isolation so many families feel.
Just three years into her marriage to Dr. Edmund Ackell, a multi-talented man who was a surgeon, pilot, artist, athlete and university administrator, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For years, Fox had to see the man who’d wielded a scalpel or a basketball with utter confidence forget how to use the coffeemaker or recall what someone just said to him. But instead of falling into despair, Fox decided to capture the still-very-much-intact soul of the man she loves in luminous, funny, charming and heartbreaking photos. It was another way of loving him and touching him, she explains.
“Why do family caregivers do what we do?” she asks about this devastating disease in the video below. “Because it’s a privilege to help somebody,” she says.. “We can do no less.”
Fox is brave. It took me years to be able to talk or write about the caregiving journey I took with my father during his long illness. And I wish I’d had more practical resources like Leeza’s Place, founded by TV celeb Leeza Gibbons during her caregiving experiences with her mom.
But I now see how much I learned from that time in my life and how it helped me grow. Fox’s beautiful book I Still Do is a powerful reminder that love can endure—no matter what.