Archive for the ‘Total Brain Health’ Category

Flavors of Fall: Autumn Activities that Engage Our Brains

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Here on the east coast, school is back in session and it is already beginning to feel like fall. While it seems the summer flew by, there is something comforting about returning to days structured around the simple routine of work and home.

I love the way seasonal transitions offer us so many opportunities to engage our brains. The changes in season challenge us to slow down and use all our senses to notice the world around us. It is too easy in the busyness of our days to miss out on the simple reminders of the subtle shift from the languorous days summer to the crisp, cool days of fall or the damp, warm smell in the air as spring arrives. Autumn also offers its own unique ways to get brain-healthy, from the arrival of seasonal foods with brain-boosting nutrients, to using that “back-to-school” feeling we all get to become more disciplined about our own memory strategies.

Here are some great brain-fit ways we love to welcome fall – we hope you enjoy sharing them with your clients, family and using them to take care of your own brain as well.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie: Want a delicious, healthy drink that’s full of brain-healthy vitamins and the flavors of fall? Blend together 1 cup of almond, soy or cashew milk, 1 cup of cooked pumpkin (or ½ large cooked sweet potato or yam), 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, and a handful of ice cubes (more or less depending on how chilled you like your smoothies). Serve this smoothie as a snack at your fall programs, or pair it with other brain-healthy recipes for a fall activities program filled with brain-boosting treats.

Walk in the Woods. For many of us, one of the clearest signs that fall has arrived is the changing color of the leaves. Taking a walk in the woods, nearby park or even just around the neighborhood gives us a chance to appreciate the turning of time, marked by the array of colors of the foliage. Use this fall walk to focus on the changing season. Encourage clients and others to use all their senses to fully experience the smell in the air, the sensation of being outdoors, and the differences in the world around them.  In an area where the sun always shines? Use this exercise to help folks simply use all their senses to connect with the world around them, and notice any subtle changes that may come as the season changes.

Spicy Scents. Think of all those warm, spicy scents we associate with autumn – Cinnamon, apple, allspice, nutmeg, among others. Gather essential oils or other items filled with the scents of fall for folks to sample. Talk about the memories they evoke, or the feelings that arise as clients try the different scents. If time allows, try baking a few fall treats, such as pumpkin muffins, baked apples, or make applesauce.

School Your Desk. Remember how good it felt to have new things to start the school year? Even if it was just a few new pencils and notebooks, or all those new books, refreshing our supplies always seemed to add to the excitement and enthusiasm of starting a new year. Getting organized is a great way we can help ourselves be more effective at work and at home; After all, folks who are better organized get more done and forget less frequently. We can recapture some of that “back to school” sensation by taking the time to clean out and reorganize our desks or other work areas. Work with clients to identify what they need to do to get their desk area more organized and talk about steps to get it done. If the task is a big one, help them set up a Master Plan that breaks the job down into doable steps (see Step 4 in our Total Memory Workout for instructions on doing so).

 

Summer 2014 | Science Update

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

The Summer 2014 Science Updates focus on cutting edge research reported at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, held this past July in Copenhagen.  The summaries below were written by our fantastic class of summer interns.

Multi-Modal Brain Training Benefits Patients At-Risk for Cognitive Impairment |  Sara Skutch, UNC-Chapel Hill 

What: The Finnish Geriatric Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (known as the FINGER study) recently shared the results of a 2 year trial at this summer’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. A sample of 1260 cognitively at-risk participants, between the ages of 60-77, were randomized and assigned to a multidimensional intervention or left alone. Those who received an intervention were guided in terms of nutrition, exercise, cardiovascular health, and activities believed to benefit cognition and prevent degeneration. The battery of tests on memory, retrieval speeds, and general functioning showed significantly better performance in the group that received the intervention. 

Why It Matters: These results are the first to show that it is possible through intervention to change the course of cognitive decline in potential victims of dementia or impairment. The multidimensional approach showed that taking care of oneself across the mind/body spectrum produced the best cognitive results; isolating one area of cognitive functioning, like memory, does not have broader benefits. They are scheduling a 7-year follow-up and will publish those results

The Takeaway: There are proven benefits to early identification of at-risk patients because this study has shown that interventions can slow the onset of cognitive impairment or dementia. Taking care of your body, mind, and emotions all impact the health of your brain and are vital to its functioning.

 

Smell and Eye Tests Show Potential for Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease | Andrea Schneider, Denison University

What:  Researchers have long theorized that the decline of our sense of smell and certain eye examinations could be potential biomarkers that could help with the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.  Several studies presented at this year’s AAIC conference found  that the loss of one’s ability to detect odor as well as the detection of beta-amyloid in the eye could both be indicators of Alzheimer’s.  As the disease begins to progress, it kills brain cells associated with our sense of smell, and tests that researchers used to detect the presence of beta-amyloid in the eyes of participants indicated that it could be a promising technique for the detection of Alzheimer’s.  These studies are key in some of the first steps in exploring less invasive and promising diagnostic tests for people with Alzheimer’s.

Why This Matters:  There have been promising developments in early detection tests for Alzheimer’s, which are further supported by these findings.  This is important to the field of brain health because it shows that there are increasing biomarkers to the detection of Alzheimer’s disease, which will help in the future to take steps to prevent the disease as early as possible.

The Takeaway:  As the promise of tests used for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease increases, so the chances that better treatments can be developed.

Want Cutting Edge Brain Health Science? Try This Hot New Trend Now!

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Watch out – a recently released study is certain to start a hot new trend in brain fitness. Your clients will clamor for it; you will spend hours trying to figure out how to fit it into the calendar, and may even start trying it yourself.

After all, brain health science is a field where all new findings – no matter how preliminary or even off-the-wall – seem worth checking out. Whether it be injecting the blood of those who are younger to reduce memory loss (which had positive results, albeit in a sample of laboratory mice) or following a new diet fad, we love to think we are living on the brain fitness edge. 

So what’s this latest study sure to kick off the newest brain fitness craze? A study out of the Netherlands tested the impact of a revolutionary intervention on dementia risk. The researchers found that after only 2 years, this cutting edge approach could significantly reduce the risk for dementia in individuals at risk for the disease. Remarkable, right? 

But wait, there’s more. You may not even have to do that much to take advantage of this new trend – in fact, there is much you already do and program for that supports it. Isn’t that great news?

So what exactly is this revolutionary approach? I’m sure you want to know what everyone seeking the latest ways to stay brain fit will be doing next. Here it is – that exercise, eating well, staying intellectually challenged and socially engaged, among other lifestyle changes, can significantly reduce our chances of developing serious memory loss as we age.  The Finnish Geriatric Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability, or FINGER Study, testing a multi-modal intervention of lifestyle modifications and cognitive stimulation, found that subjects who participated in the training program had a significantly reduced risk for memory loss after two years.

That’s right. The hot new trend? Brain healthy living.

I’ll bet you’re not surprised to learn that promoting a brain healthy lifestyle is a proven way to improve memory and reduce dementia risk. Yet perhaps you are feeling a bit disappointed.

The truth is it’s a hard thing to “sell” the truth of brain health science – we are drawn to quick fixes, edgy solutions and the latest secret ingredient. Telling our clients to move more, eat smarter, and engage their brains more just doesn’t feel, well,  “trendy” enough. Changing the way we lead our lives – let alone convincing someone else to change theirs – is hard work, requiring time and commitment.

Perhaps the failure is ours. Why not promote what we know really works, rather than looking for a new technology to offer or exotic berry to try? As a thought leader in your community, you have the lead in insuring that your message on brain health reflects what really matters. You can  make sure that what trends on brain health is what the science shows can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those you serve. 

Here at Total Brain Health®, we believe strongly that this new trend is the right path to promoting better brain fitness. We know that the weight of the science consistently and wholly points in the direction of engaging body, mind and spirit for better memory and long-term brain wellness. Our favorite brain craze is not looking for off-the-wall findings, but taking the proven science and creating ways to teach it that are cutting edge. We seek ways to make your work easier through education, training and programming based on our Total Brain Health® Blueprint, an actionable plan that promotes the real science of brain fitness. Whether you share what you read in our newsletters, try tips from our blog, use our new Total Brain Health® Solutions toolkits for programming, or join us as a coach, we’d love your company in promoting this new trend.

So let’s make brain healthy living the latest, greatest thing to try.

 

June 2014 | Science Update

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

This summer we are proud to feature Science Updates written by our awesome summer interns. June’s updates focus on recent findings about nutrition and long-term dementia risk.

Can Nuts Keep You Brain Healthy? Sara Skutch, UNC-Chapel Hill

What: Nuts are an invaluable food for brain health because they contain essential fatty acids and support cardiovascular health, which has been highly correlated with better brain function. Data was collected from 15,467 women, aged 70 or older, who completed 4 interviews on their average nut consumption and 4 cognitive assessments over six years. Women who reported being in the highest group of nut consumers (>3 servings/month) showed higher performance after age 70 on memory tests, had higher recall speeds, and did better on general cognition assessments. The cognitive scores of the highest group were about two years better than the lowest group when controlled for age. They also were more likely to have lower body mass indexes, have attained higher levels of education, and were much less likely to have a history of high blood pressure.

Why it Matters: This study was the first one to focus on nuts having a direct impact on cognitive function. The findings were very valuable because they showed that eating nuts more frequently is a simply way to sustain brain health as people age. Including more nuts in one’s diet is relatively easy intervention, something that many people can do.

The Takeaway: Including more nuts in your diet is an easy way to keep your brain healthy at any age. And the benefits are not limited to your brain; the findings also showed that people who ate more nuts had lower body mass and blood pressure. You can’t lose with nuts!

 

Do We Age out of Anti-Oxidants? Andrea Schneider, Denison University

What: This study was conducted in 2013 to test if there was a relationship between the amount of antioxidants in the diet of elderly adults and the chance of them having a stroke or getting dementia.  The researchers used a sample of about 5,400 participants, all 55 or older, either stroke-free, dementia-free, or both.  The participants had to complete a meal-based checklist at the beginning of the process in order to measure their antioxidant levels throughout the study.  Over the 14-year time frame there were three follow-up assessments, which indicated over 600 cases of stroke/dementia, leading them to conclude that there was no apparent connection between the levels of antioxidants in their diets and the participant’s risk for neurological disorders such as dementia or stroke.

Why This Matters:  Better nutrition and the diet of elderly people has been associated with the improvement of cognitive function. This study is significant because it shows a lack of support for one aspect of this idea: that total antioxidant levels in the diet of elderly people can improve their brain health.  Other studies referenced in the article highlighted that in other age ranges there were improvements in brain health as a result of antioxidants, but for this particular age range there showed little to no connection.

The Takeaway:  While this study shows that increasing the amount of antioxidants in one’s diet does not influence the risk for stroke or dementia in older adults, it is still beneficial to include a well rounded amount of foods rich in antioxidants in our diets, including berries, beans, and dark greens.

Brain Diet Fads: Fact, Fiction or Fashion? What You Should Know to “Eat Smart” Now

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

When it comes to brain health, it seems nothing is more confusing than advice about what we eat and drink. The media’s obsessional reporting of every new finding on diet and memory (no matter how small or obscure the study) merely reflects our own anxieties about how the food on our table may literally turn the tables on our long-term vitality. Strident statements and specific instructions are increasingly made. Yet as a recent editorial in the Neurobiology of Aging journal states, “(s)o far, no nutritional intervention has been proved to be effective in reducing the risk or severity of Alzheimer’s or any dementia.”

While some may feel that there is little risk in making such diet recommendations regardless, this is not truly the case. Some trends may be risky  - for example the supplement ginkgo biloba can increase risk for bleeding in older adults, and is contraindicated in individuals taking blood thinning agents).  Others may be expensive, creating a potential economic burden for the user. Finally – and most ironically — too many of us live with a dose of disconnect between how we eat and what we know is good for our brains and our general health. Our population is increasingly overweight and consequent medical conditions that are known to impact brain health over the long-term, such as obesity and diabetes, are on the rise as a result. If we cannot follow even the simplest diet recommendations for our overall health, how are we going to get on board with a more complex one focused solely on boosting brainpower?

As an expert in brain health, I have long advocated that we “eat smart” by following a healthy, well-rounded diet and maintaining a healthy weight rather than focusing on a specific food fad or the supplement of the moment. The bulk of the science still falls firmly in favor of such an approach. A summary of  dietary guidelines from the 2013 International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain underscores this reasoned attitude regarding brain health and diet. The guidelines offered include limiting intake of saturated fatty acids, eating more vegetables and whole grains and including aerobic activity in one’s daily routine. These common sense suggestions are hardly revolutionary and confirm a simple strategy for those of us seeking ways to stay healthy.

Yet isn’t there something we can learn from the current trends and fashions in brain healthy eating? Let’s face it — they are hard to ignore. After all, at some point all science was once too “young” or “inconclusive” – I recall my grandfather telling me when he was a young boy olive oil was considered unhealthy (hard as it may be for us to imagine). While we do and should look to the hard science first, what if, as the evidence builds, these newer recommendations have merit?

When we consider the many “brain diets” popular today, I suggest that we can indeed find recommendations that can easily be accommodated within what the science supports, without significant risk or cost. In addition, many of these trends jive with cutting edge advice on eating for better overall health.

In that spirit, here is the Total Brain Health® take on how we can “eat smart” with an eye to some new nutritional ideas for better brain health:

Buck Tradition. If you eat the traditional American diet, it’s time to make a change. One of the most valuable things we can learn from looking at the dietary trends for both brain and body health is that we aren’t eating what the current science suggests we should. First step? Shift the balance of power on your plate by making veggies and fruits the main event with your protein of choice as the side. When grains are included, make sure they are whole grains and not of the refined variety. These simple moves will get you in line with the “greater food majority,” as everyone from the USDA to food guru Mark Bittman have been making this a priority recommendation for, well, years. In addition, it will up your chances of eating a more brain healthy diet, lowering your intake of saturated fat while upping your chances of getting more antioxidants.

Be Daring. Dare to be different — vary your diet so that you are constantly trying new foods and even new cuisines. Many of the current nutrition trends point to the pitfalls of always eating in the same familiar way. They suggest that it is the very lack of variety that may rob us of certain nutrients, increase our sensitivity to certain foods, or just simply keep us from making healthier choices. Follow more of a Mediterranean-style diet, found in many studies to potentially lower dementia risk. Eat more foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold-water fish (not just salmon but also sardines, mackerel, or anchovies), which seems to support better brain function over our lifetimes. If you don’t already, make non-meat based protein a regular part of your meal plans. You don’t have to stick to tofu – there are lots of ways to get that protein in, including beans, nuts and berries that substitute for grains (quinoa or buckwheat, for example). Mixing up your diet by daring to try new things can also offer you a different kind of brain boost, as the intellectual challenge of eating differently is a great way to “stretch” your mind as well.

Go Against the Grain. One of the hottest trends in brain health is the idea that eating gluten (found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and spelt) or even carbohydrates significantly increases our risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The science here, while interesting and with some merit, remains controversial. However it should make us at least think twice about the amount of gluten in our diet, which frankly is a lot. Bagels for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta for dinner? Even if we aren’t ready to get on board the “grain brain” trend, isn’t it time we got rid of some of that gluten? Luckily if we are bucking tradition and daring to eat differently, it will be easier to do just that. Gluten-free alternatives include potato, rice, soy, and oats. You may also look to try quinoa, millet or amaranth, all ancient grains seeing resurgence due to greater interest in gluten-free eating. To get started, you can check out our Total Brain Health® Maple Grains Granola recipe, a simple yet delicious breakfast or snack alternative that uses these grains.

Savor Your Sustenance. Fostering mindfulness, or our ability to be present in the moment, has been shown in several studies to boost attention and improve intellectual performance. Making mindfulness a regular mealtime habit offers us a wonderful opportunity to practice being in the moment as we do something that we otherwise might do without further thought. Some experts suggest that we may even eat healthier and be more likely to maintain a healthy weight by practicing mindfulness as part of our mealtime routine. What does it take to eat mindfully? Simply shifting our focus and attention to the full experience of eating. To get started, check out yoga teacher Jillian Pransky’s Mindful Eating Meditation or pick up the book Savor by meditation expert Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lillian Cheung.

I hope you find these tips for integrating the latest brain healthy nutrition trends into your daily eating routine helpful. Have some advice or tips to share? Let us know, we’d love to hear what you do for yourself, your family or your clients. Happy eating to all!

Brain Healthy Eating from Cal-a-Vie Health Spa | Chef Curtis Cooke’s Awesome Savoy Cabbage Salad with Walnuts

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

I was recently the featured guest presenter at the spectacular Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista, CA. In addition to the opportunity to engage in great discussions about brain healthy living with the spa guests, I had the chance to get to know the spa’s talented chef, Curtis Cooke, and amazing nutritionist, May Tom. The week featured some brain healthy recipes they have given us permission to share with our readers. Just a little way you can bring Cal-a-Vie home to your own kitchen!

First up — a brain healthy salad that combines the antioxidants of crucifers with the omega-boost of walnuts. This delicious salad is a great lunch main course or side for dinner with a lean protein such as chicken or salmon. Enjoy!

Dr. Green

Cal-a-Vie Savoy Cabbage Salad with White Balsamic Vinagriette Dressing