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Alzheimer's Disease and other Dementias
Senior Health

7 Secrets of Staying Sharp

As Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, wrote in the 18th-century, The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman.” You may recognize the importance of eating right, good sleep, exercise and social interaction in cultivating a healthy brain and body. But there are a few secrets of neuroprotection that even Gulliver may not have discovered in his far-reaching explorations. Here are some lesser-known ways to help maintain mental acuity (or “sharpness’) from Dr. Anne Lipton, a memory specialist and board-certified neurologist:

Pump Down the Volume = Protect Your Hearing. One in three adults over the age of 65 experiences hearing loss. Hearing loss has been linked to depression, memory loss and dementia. Hearing aids may be an option but there is no medication to treat loss of hearing, so prevention is key. Avoid loud noise, especially prolonged exposure. Use earbuds/headphones sparingly, if absolutely necessary, and mind the volume.

Limiting sun exposure, including wearing sunscreen, helps prevent skin cancer but also prevents our skin from producing vitamin D. More than 50 percent of Americans have a low vitamin D level, which has been linked to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as well as osteoporosis and other neurological conditions. As with many vitamins, the vitamin D we get from food is more beneficial than supplements, which may be of limited or no advantage (or in the case of vitamin D, potentially even harmful). Therefore, check with your doctor as to whether you should have your vitamin D level checked and supplemented. Foods rich in vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, tuna, some mushrooms, liver, milk, yogurt, eggs, and cheese.

Sleep easier: Avoid regular and prolonged use of over-the-counter sleep remedies. These can be detrimental to mental sharpness and memory, especially in people over 65 years of age. Anyone needing to use a pill to help them sleep more than once a week should see their doctor for evaluation of sleep disturbance, as well as for other treatment options. Many prescription sleep aids are available as generics and can be less detrimental to memory than over-the-counter options.

Reflux medications shouldn’t be a reflex: Avoid prolonged use of over-the-counter gastrointestinal remedies. Certain medications in this class may be associated with dementia. Anyone needing to use these more often than once a week should see their physician for evaluation of the root cause of their gastrointestinal problems and consideration of treatment options.

When it comes to colds and flu, keep it simple. Choose medications specific to symptoms, not combinations that may include medications—and side effects—that you don’t want or need, including adverse effects to attention and memory. Even better, prevent the flu by getting the flu vaccine, preferably early in the fall, although late (e.g. in February) is better than never. To minimize chances for contracting or spreading disease, wash your hands. In addition, avoid touching your face and public surfaces and sharing things like pens and drinking glasses.

Minimize general anesthesia. General anesthesia has powerful effects on the brain, especially with repeated exposure and in the elderly. Ask about alternatives to general anesthesia and surgical options, and obtain a second opinion. For example, perhaps regional anesthesia or conscious sedation may be used, depending on the type of surgical procedure. Request the lowest possible dose of anesthesia be administered, at least initially, unless more is required, particularly if you have had any previous sensitivity to anesthesia.

When it comes to colds and flu, keep it simple. Choose medications specific to symptoms, not combinations that may include medications—and side effects—that you don’t want or need, including adverse effects to attention and memory. Even better, prevent the flu by getting the flu vaccine, preferably early in the fall, but late (e.g. in February) is better than never. To minimize chances for contracting or spreading disease, wash your hands. In addition, avoid touching your face and public surfaces and sharing things like pens and drinking glasses.

Keep calm and carry on. Stress and frustration aren’t good for the brain. Take breaks to promote creativity. Break tasks down into parts. Make notes and lists. Learn to say no.

Dr. Anne Lipton, memory specialist and board certified neurologist, is an advisor to Cariloop, a Houston-based company that offers comprehensive healthcare coaching services and digital tools to help caregivers. For more information on Cariloop, click here.