June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and the Alzheimer’s Association has a list of 10 Healthy Habits for Your Brain that can help keep your brain strong into your senior years. This blog reviews scholarly research about each of the 10 tips and suggests resources in Central Oregon to help you follow these guidelines. 

1. Challenge your mind

Challenging your mind can delay the onset of cognitive decline. A study by the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that a cognitively active lifestyle in old age may delay the onset of dementia in Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as five years. Activities such as reading books, writing letters, and doing puzzles are associated with later onset of cognitive decline. 

The senior centers in Central Oregon have social activities groups that gather to play games and do other mentally stimulating activities. There are also Meetup groups, such as Central Oregon Chess, that gather individuals of all ages to play strategy  games. You can even host a game night for your friends to challenge your mind.

2. Stay in school

Although children and young adults typically pursue education, it has great cognitive benefits for older adults as well. Researchers at Tohoku University’s Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer found that middle-aged and older people in adult education classes had a 19% lower risk of developing dementia within five years.

Central Oregon Community College offers Community Education courses with free tuition for people over 65. These personal enrichment opportunities nurture and grow your interests — no matter your age, background, or experience level. Find a course that’s right for you, such as gardening, photography, or learning a foreign language. 

3. Get moving

Greater amounts of physical activity have been shown to reduce cognitive decline. In particular, mind-body exercise (such as tai chi and yoga) and multimodal exercise (a combination of cardiorespiratory, muscular strength, and flexibility exercises) offer cognitive benefits to seniors.

The Council on Aging has a list of health education classes across Central Oregon. We sponsor tai chi and Better Bones and Balance courses to help Central Oregon’s seniors get more exercise. There are also organizations like Crook County on the Move that are dedicated to helping Central Oregonians get moving. 

4. Protect your head

Head injuries can cause cognitive decline even decades after the accident. Using strategies to prevent falls in your later years can also protect your cognition. The National Council on Aging has a Falls Free CheckUp list that provides resources that prevent falls. You can also read our blog on Falls Prevention Awareness Month to learn how to prevent falls and find resources for falls prevention in Central Oregon.

To help recover from brain injuries, the Brain Injury Alliance of Oregon has a list of experts in Central Oregon, support groups, training, and special resources for veterans. 

5. Be smoke-free

According to the World Health Organization, “smoking is a risk factor for dementia, and quitting could reduce the dementia burden.” The Alzheimer’s Society suggests methods to stop smoking:

  • Try using a date or event as motivation. For example, you could make it a goal to fully quit before your vacation.
  • Consider using less harmful nicotine products such as patches, nasal sprays, lozenges, gum, e-cigarettes, or vapes.
  • Utilize the National Institute of Health’s 60+ SmokeFree, which has a texting program, online support groups, apps, and medication suggestions to help older adults quit smoking.

If you want to quit smoking, Smoke Free Oregon has resources to help. Call the free Oregon Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-784-8669 to get tips, one-on-one counseling, and nicotine replacement therapy. Their quit coaches will help make a plan to fit your own life.

6. Control your blood pressure

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to cognitive decline. Another study by the American Medical Association found that intensively lowering blood pressure reduced the risk for cognitive decline in people aged 50+ with high blood pressure.

The Oregon Medical Association has tips for providers and patients on managing high blood pressure, including information on how to measure and record blood pressure, as well as information on lifestyle changes to lower blood pressure.

7. Manage diabetes

Insulin signal impairment from type 2 diabetes increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. A study in the World Journal of Diabetes found that insulin therapy and other anti-diabetic medications can help manage various cognitive impairments. 

Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or managed by regularly exercising, eating a balanced diet, and taking medication. The American Diabetes Association has resources to help manage diabetes, including information on the latest medical therapies and approaches and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

Your Health Central Oregon has a free Prevent Diabetes Program developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This program includes group meetings with a trained lifestyle coach to implement new skills. The program is proven to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in adults.

8. Eat right

The National Institute on Aging promotes eating healthier foods to reduce your risk of cognitive decline. They also have tips on what types of foods older adults should eat to maintain a balanced diet. 

Seniors in Central Oregon can get help eating a healthy diet through the Council on Aging’s nutrition programs. We serve Meals on Wheels to homebound adults and host in-person lunches for adults aged 60+ at six sites across the tri-county. A Registered Dietitian reviews each menu to ensure older adults are getting proper nutrition. We also provide quarterly educational seminars on healthy eating, with topics ranging from understanding food labels to dietary tips that reduce inflammation. 

9. Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity negatively affects the central nervous system, which lowers attention span, impairs decision making, and hinders verbal learning. Making lifestyle choices that keep you at a healthy weight can prevent or delay some of these issues with brain function. Check out our “Get moving” and “Eat right” sections above for resources in Central Oregon.

Obesity may also be caused by underlying medical issues, which requires the assistance of medical professionals. Talk to your doctor about potential medications, programs, and treatments that will be most effective to help with your medical condition.

10. Sleep well

A study in JAMA Network found that excessive sleep (≥10 hours per night) and insufficient sleep (≤4 hours per night) could contribute to cognitive decline. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has advice on what steps to take to get the right amount of sleep, such as creating a bedtime routine and lowering caffeine and alcohol intake.

Issues with sleep may be due to underlying medical issues. A number of medical practices in Central Oregon provide care for sleep disorders, including St. Charles Health System’s Sleep Center and Summit Health Group’s Sleep Disorders Center. Talk to your doctor and insurance company to select the right center if you are getting excessive or insufficient sleep.

More Information

In addition to these 10 healthy habits for your brain, check out our other blog posts:

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Free Gym Membership and Classes through SilverSneakers

Exercising with Limited Mobility

Can Memory Issues Reverse Course? Positively!

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

Celebrate World Health Day: Supporting your mental health is key to healthy aging

By Alison Martin