Posted: Monday, June 24, 2024

Healthy Brains, Healthy Bodies

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, reminding us that maintaining brain health is just as important as keeping our bodies healthy. We rely on our brains to coordinate our thoughts, emotions and movements. Unfortunately, neurons—the cells in the brain responsible for sending information throughout your body—are not replaced if they are destroyed or damaged which can lead to cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment, which can include memory loss, mood swings and behavioral changes, encompasses many cognitive disorders and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 55 million people worldwide have dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases diagnosed each year. Cognitive impairment, regardless of severity, can affect one’s independence, safety, daily activities and relationships with loved ones. “If you’ve experienced confusion or memory loss more often in the last 12 months or feel like it’s getting worse, this is considered subjective cognitive decline and may indicate a need for a lifestyle change or further medical follow-up,” said Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation speech-language pathologist Becky Hill.

Environmental factors such as lack of sleep, depression/anxiety, uncontrolled blood pressure and blood sugars, chronic urinary tract infections, and certain medications can impact subjective cognitive decline. Fortunately, research has shown that there are preventative measures we can take to keep our brains healthy. Engaging in activities that challenge the brain such as learning a new skill, solving puzzles such as crosswords or Sudoku, playing an instrument, learning a new dance or simply changing up an exercise routine can help improve memory and function. “For years, we have concentrated on keeping our bodies healthy by following diet and exercise, therefore, our bodies are starting to outlive our brains. Research shows that if one spends 30 minutes, five or more times a week doing physical and cognitive exercise; follows a healthy diet of colorful fruits and vegetables; limits the amount of fat from sugar or salty foods; drinks plenty of water; engages in social activity and manages overall health, the risk for subjective memory loss and a diagnosis of cognitive impairment can be reduced,” Hill explained. In addition, getting plenty of rest and limiting alcohol is proven to benefit the brain.

The Brain Health Enrichment Program offers free cognitive screenings by appointment to help individuals experiencing any form of cognitive change. Changes could be considered very mild to an extremely severe impairment resulting from stroke, head injury, COVID or progressive neurological diseases. “Our rehabilitation staff is specially trained in cognitive care to provide these consultations, and if therapeutic intervention is recommended, this team of speech-language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, medical social workers, and the individual’s primary care provider will customize a treatment plan. This plan will address any cognitive deficiencies through exercise and management strategies; community resources; and education to increase independence, confidence and performance,” said Hill.

To learn more about brain health and cognitive decline prevention, or to take advantage of our free cognitive screenings, call 865-238-6118.

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