7 Steps to Prevent You from Losing Your Mind as You Age

Part 1

SPECT Images of a Health Brain. Daniel Amen, MD

With 11,000 people turning 60 every day, more people than ever are worried about losing their mind as they age.  The word dementia is every bit as scary as cancer, and is a word that no one wants to think about. But instead of fear, what if we started to reframe the way we think of it?  Based on my experience with thousands of patients, I sincerely believe there are specific steps you can take to minimize your risk, reverse pending illness, and keep your brain healthy for decades to come.

  In this 7 part series I will give you a very clear plan to have the best brain possible, for as long as possible. 

 First, let’s get clear about how we define dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is a broad term that describes an overall decline in cognitive function, including a decreased ability to remember the details of one’s life, think and speak clearly and often includes emotional problems as well. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia and makes up about 70% of all cases. As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is what most of us often hear about, but there are many other forms of the disease, such as alcoholic dementia, vascular dementia, and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) or football dementia, among others. 

Since Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, that is what we will focus on for this series.

You’ve heard the scary statistics: Alzheimer’s disease is expected to triple in the next thirty years, and what’s worse, there is no cure in sight.

If you are fortunate enough to live to age 85 or older, you have a 1 in 2 chance of developing some form of dementia. There is alarming new evidence that suggests that Alzheimer’s disease begins forming in your brain many decades before you become symptomatic. This means people struggling in their seventies could have been taking measures to prevent the disease in their thirties!

 So what can you do?

 1. The first and most critical step is to develop Brain Envy. Simply put, you must learn to love your brain.  Freud was wrong.  Penis Envy is not the cause of most of your problems. He was about 2 ½ feet too low in the body.  Many of us never think about the importance of keeping our brain healthy, because we can’t see our brain. Think about it; you can see the blemishes on your face, the extra fat on your stomach, or the wrinkles in your skin. But the brain is the most important organ in your body and it controls every single thing in your life. When it works right, you work right. Falling in love with your brain is the first step towards getting your health under control.

 2. All of us need baseline brain health assessments. Unfortunately, this is rarely done for the brain.  When I turned 50 my doctor wanted me to have a colonoscopy.  I asked him why he didn’t want to look at my brain.  Wasn’t the other end of my body just as important?  From colonoscopies to mammograms, cardiac stress tests, pap smears and more, most organs get baseline testing and preventive screening, except for the most important organ that runs your life.

We use brain SPECT imaging to help us understand and treat our patients, but a long time ago I realized not everyone can get a scan.  In our online community www.mybrainfitlife.com there’s a sophisticated computerized brain health assessment, the same one we use with our patients.  It gives detailed information on your:

  • Thinking abilities, including your attention, memory and processing speed
  • Feelings – mood, stress, and anxiety levels, and
  • Ability to self-regulate, including your resilience and whether you tend to be positive or negative, which has huge implications for your health.

 New research shows that lower memory and thinking scores up to 18 years earlier can indicate possible Alzheimer’s disease later on.  How concerned are you about your brain health?  How good would it feel to know you don’t have a problem?  Or if you do have a problem, to know there are things you can do about it?  You cannot change what you do not measure.  All of us need baseline testing and regular checkups to pick up any problems early. 

When you take the steps to learn about the condition of your brain, then you can begin to maximize its potential and avoid the cognitive decline that comes in our later years. This decline is not something we should accept as a normal part of aging. I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. In the next part of the series, I’ll tell you about the important health numbers you need to know to decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia so you can maximize your potential for a long, happy, brain healthy life.

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