4 Everyday Conditions That Can Lead to Depression and Dementia

Stress is Bad for Your Brain!. Shutterstock

Title: 4 Familiar Problems That Can Lead to Depression and Dementia

This is part 5 of a 7 part series on keeping your mind healthy as you age.

As I discussed in the previous four articles:

  • You need to develop Brain Envy.
  • All of us need baseline brain health assessments.
  • We need to optimize our important health numbers, not just normalize them. 
  • Help your brain in multiple ways.
  • Plus, it has to be iterative; you can never stop … because aging never stops. 
  • One of the most important ways to decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s disease is to decrease all of the risk factors for it, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, smoking, alcohol abuse, low thyroid and testosterone levels, sleep apnea and insomnia.
  • And there are more:

1) Excessive stress is another major risk factor for both depression and dementia.  Some examples include:

  • Taking care of a loved one with a mental illness or a parent with dementia,
  • Having a serious medical ailment like cancer, or
  • Losing a loved one, either through death or divorce

Whenever you’re exposed to a flood of stress hormones, it not only disrupts your sleep, but it can damage your immune system and actually shrink the memory centers in your brain.Since stress is everywhere … ALL of us would benefit from a regular stress management practice.Exercise and meditation can help, but my personal favorite is medical hypnosis which I have used with patients for many years.

 

Research has shown that medical hypnosis can

  • calm your emotional brain while helping with focus
  • help break addictions
  • treat depression, especially when it is combined with my ANT killing technique I’ll discuss in a future article 
  • be a powerful aid for sleep.

Recently, a woman from Australia came up to me at one of our clinics and said, “Dr.

Amen I just love sleeping with you.”  I blushed and she laughed and said she meant she used my medical hypnosis program to help her fall and stay asleep.

2) Untreated attention deficit disorder increases your risk for both depression and dementia.  Studies have shown that ADD is associated with low activity in an area called the prefrontal cortex, which acts as the brain’s brake.  It stops you from saying or doing impulsive things. 

When the prefrontal cortex is low, people tend to be easily distracted and have trouble controlling themselves, making it very hard to stay on track and consistently make good decisions—even though they want to. 

If you are disorganized or have a short attention span, get assessed and treated.  It could save your brain.  And, it’s never too late to get ADD treated! 

One of my favorite patients was 94-years-old when she first came to see me. She couldn’t focus and could never finish reading the newspaper.  A month after she started treatment, she told me with a big smile on her face that she had read her first book.

3) If you exercise less than twice a week it increases your risk of dementia but you can eliminate that risk today by exercising more than twice a week and, of course, not becoming a couch potato.  Walk like you’re late for 45 minutes, 4-5 times a week and lift weights twice a week.  The stronger you are as you age the less likely you are to get dementia and, in fact, it could save your life. In addition, exercise can be very effective for combatting depressive symptoms.

Dr. Garrett Halweg, another one of our psychiatrists, took brain health seriously, including exercise and being strong.  Then one day while vacationing in Hawaii he got a rare infection that nearly killed him. He was in a coma for 7 days.  The only reason he survived, besides the wonderful medical care, was the muscle on his body.  If he had been frail or even normal, it is likely he would have died.  Your life depends on your habits.  Because Garrett took brain health seriously, he can continue doing the work he loves that helps so many people.

4) No new learning or being addicted to your email, text messages or video games increases your risk of dementia and depression.  In one study sponsored by Hewlett Packard, people who were addicted to their gadgets lost 10 IQ points over a year. It was more harmful than smoking marijuana, which also decreases IQ.  You can decrease these risk factors TODAY by limiting your gadgets and adding mental exercise to your life.

Your brain is like a muscle, the more you use it in positive ways, the more you CAN use it.  But this is not just doing crossword puzzles, which only work out one part of your brain.  Just doing crossword puzzles is like going to the gym, doing right bicep curls and then leaving. You have to work out your whole brain.

  • Word games or learning a language can stimulate the left front part of the brain.
  • Laughter stimulates the right side and can boost creativity.  
  • Learning a musical instrument can boost your temporal lobes and help with memory. 
  • Learning new dance steps and playing table tennis can strengthen your cerebellum (the back bottom part of your brain) and help you with processing speed.  Of course, if you drink when you dance or play beer pong, it completely ruins any benefit.

Work out your brain for at least 15 minutes a day!

Next time we will discuss some of the most critical risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, and what you can do about them to stay happy and cognitively sharp for as long as possible.

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