As awe-inspiring as the human brain is, we do become vulnerable to mental decline as we age. Research has helped us gain a greater understanding of various forms of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, along with other types of cognitive impairment and memory loss. Yet there is still so much to know.
One thing is certain: It’s important to pay just as much attention to our brain health as we do to our physical health. Eating well (for instance, by regularly consuming “brain foods,” particularly fish as it is rich in omega 3 fatty acids), keeping physically active, getting plenty of sleep and staying socially engaged are among the ways that aging adults can give themselves the best odds for maintaining mental sharpness.
“We all need to think about brain health the way we think about our hearts and joints,” per Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging and administrator of the Administration for Community Living (ACL). “This means seeking information and, ultimately, taking action—including talking to a healthcare provider with any questions or concerns.”
ACL falls under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which recently launched the “What is Brain Health?” campaign as a way to provide the public with information about how the brain changes over time and to identify steps that people can take to keep their brains healthy. The centerpiece of the campaign is brainhealth.gov, a resource hub that includes tips for talking with loved ones and healthcare practitioners about this subject.
The public face of this campaign is Academy Award-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden, whose involvement was prompted by her experience with her own mother’s cognitive decline. Harden summarizes the importance of brain health in a series of videos on the site. Here are some of the comments she shares in the series: “We focus a lot on body health, and we don’t focus on brain health — how to stay sharp, how to stay active, no matter your age. There’s still a lot of things to do in this world and this life. Life is short, and you have to be in the moment. If you want a healthy, older, lively last couple of chapters, then you’ve got to be paying attention now.”
The HHS campaign defines brain health as the ability to remember, learn, plan, concentrate and maintain a clear, active mind. As described on the site, “It’s being able to draw on the strengths of your brain — information management, logic, judgment, perspective and wisdom. Brain health is also a key part of your overall health.”
The “What Is Brain Health?” campaign urges people to take immediate steps to keep their brains and bodies healthy to reduce the risk of decline — such as engaging your brain by reading, participating in social activities or learning new skills. Site visitors can also review information in the following categories and topic areas:
- How the human brain functions
- Scientific information about our changing brains
- What you need to know about brain health as you age
- Cognitive skills and normal aging
- Unraveling the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease
- What affects brain health
The site also helps separate brain facts from brain fiction by providing answers to such questions as:
- Do creativity and wisdom automatically decline over time?
- Do brain games like crossword and Sudoku puzzles help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
- Is there anything you can do to reduce some risk to your brain over time?
- Are mental health issues such as depression an inevitable part of aging?
- Are all short-term memory lapses an early sign of brain decline?
Head to the site and take the “Fact or Fiction Quiz” to learn ways of improving your and your loved ones’ odds for better brain health as you age.
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