Have you done something nice for your brain today?  Did that even cross your mind?  I know that until recently it didn’t cross my mind.  I have thought about getting in shape physically, I have wondered how healthy my heart is, and yes, I must admit I have thought about getting my hair healthier; but not so much about the health of my brain. 

            Lately I have become obsessed with ways to have a healthier brain.  The statistics are quite concerning – some reports estimate that you have a 1 in 9 chance of having some form of dementia at the age of 65, and your risk doubles every 5 years after that.  Dementia is the 5th leading cause of death among those 65 and older according to the CDC.  So if you plan on reaching 85, some experts say that you have a 50% chance of having dementia.  Look at the person sitting next to you – will it be you or them who gets dementia?  That is a scary thought!

            I plan on living for a long time.  I want to enjoy my grandkids.  I don’t want them to know me as that lady they have to visit in a place that smells funny who can’t even remember their name.  I prefer to be in charge of my own bathing and personal care for as long as possible.  So if there is something I can do to help keep my brain healthy, then you had better believe I am going to do it!

            One of the scariest things to me is that dementia starts taking hold long before you ever notice any symptoms.  By the time you notice symptoms, there can be a lot of damage done already.  I am encouraged by some of the work being done by the Amen Clinics as well as others however, that show that we can heal some damage and prevent further cognitive decline.

            Let me tell you how serious I am about this.  If you knew me, you would know that I am a hardcore Coca Cola fan.  Back in my younger days I used to drink a 6-pack of Diet Coke every day.  Somewhere in my adult years I switched to regular Coke, and have been drinking one in the morning and one in the afternoon for more years than I can remember.  I have never been a coffee drinker.  I don’t think I even really tried coffee until I was in my 40’s.  The biggest rule at my house – never take mom’s last Coke.  I take my Coke very seriously.

            Well, after learning more about my brain health, I have decided that one step I can take is to stop drinking Coke.  I am not here to bash Coke in any way; it has been my trusted companion for many years!  But it does appear from what I am learning, that perhaps all of that sugar might not be so good for the control center of my entire being.  I am not willing to give up caffeine quite yet, so I have decided to give coffee a shot – 1 cup/day.  From what I have read, coffee seems to be preferable over soda, so that is my one thing.  For now. 

            This may not seem like a huge deal to you in the grand scheme of things, but here is my point.  There are so many things you can do for the health of your brain that it can be overwhelming.  Pick one thing that seems important to you, and start there.  For me it is not drinking soda – at least not on a regular basis anymore.  I am not a fanatic.  I am sure there will be times that I still indulge in a soda, just not daily like I have been. 

            For you it might be going for a walk for 20 minutes 4 times/week.  Or cut back your alcohol consumption to once or twice a week.  You could start a mindfulness practice for 10 minutes every day.  Maybe you are not getting enough Omega 3 in your diet, so you could start taking a daily supplement.  Or maybe you could start by increasing your sleep every night.  Pick something that feels doable to you, something that jumps out and grabs your attention.  All you have to do is start with one thing and make that a habit.  You can do one thing right?  We can all find one thing to do for our brain. 

            If you would like some more ideas, or some support in creating a healthier brain, contact me.  It can be so much easier to make changes with someone else to walk the path with you.

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPCC

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