8 Ways to Lower Your Dementia Risk

No one wants to suffer with dementia in old age — or for that matter, at any age. Are there steps one can take to minimize the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback says, “The short answer is yes, researchers believe so. But more studies are needed to uncover what causes dementia in some people and not in others. It helps to understand the complicated nature of the development of dementia. In the majority of cases, dementia and Alzheimer’s, like other relatively common chronic conditions, develop as a result of complex interactions between heredity, physical health and the environment in which you live.”

Researchers have been trying to parse out which of the interactions including age, genetics (heredity), environment, lifestyle, and any and all coexisting medical conditions, might be the most important.

Researchers note that some risk factors, such as age and DNA, cannot be changed, but other risk factors most certainly can be minimized. This is especially true when you consider unhealthy habits such as smoking or heavy drinking, which can be curtailed or stopped. Another lifestyle change to reduce dementia risk is exercise. Lack of exercise spells trouble, both in the physical body (atrophy of muscles) and the mind (exercising the body also benefits the brain). Ongoing research in multiple areas may lead to new ways to detect those at highest risk.

Ongoing research in multiple areas may lead to new ways to detect those at highest risk. Meanwhile, here’s what we know that you can do to help mitigate your risk of developing dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Do not use anticholinergic drugs (Here is a LINK to the November 6, 2018 blog that addresses this issue.)
  • Don’t smoke (or if you do, quit as soon as possible).
  • Keep active and exercise regularly. Even walking counts.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, begin to make changes to your diet and exercise regimen to lose weight gradually and permanently.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink very moderately, if at all.
  • Keep cholesterol and blood pressure at a healthy level.
  • Keep regular social connections and interactions strong.
  • Learn something new every day. Travel. Try new foods. Take up a new hobby or activity. Intellectual activity is very important.

Although we are a long way from knowing everything about why some of get dementia and others do not, we are learning more and more all the time.

Take charge of your health! Make the changes noted above now to stay ahead of deteriorating brain health – and be as healthy as possible as you age. 

What You Eat (and when) Dramatically Affects Your Brain Health

It may seem obvious to state that our brains need proper fuel to function effectively. We prove this to ourselves when we miss breakfast and find it hard to think clearly until we ingest some protein.

Protein is absorbed by our bodies and used by our brains, among other things, to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by our brain cells to communicate with each other. We make new neurotransmitters all the time so that we can pay attention, learn new skills, remember details, control our emotional reactions, and regulate mood.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we know that a well-balanced diet for our bodies will also significantly aid cognitive function and brain health.

Here’s how you can eat right for your brain:

When your stomach is empty, so is your brain. Starting off the day without eating protein sets the stage for impaired attention and concentration.

20 grams of protein must be consumed by lunch for effective brain function — with at least 10 grams ingested first thing in the morning.

A protein shake, a hard-boiled egg, Greek yogurt, bacon and cheese omelet, or organic peanut butter on whole wheat toast, all qualify.

If you eat a breakfast with no fat, little protein and a high glycemic index – such as sweetened cereal and milk or a bagel with fat free cream cheese — your blood sugar will skyrocket and you’ll get an energy boost. But – all too soon, your blood sugar level will crash, which triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, that leave you feeling jittery, moody, and having difficulty concentrating.

When this is your child’s breakfast, no amount of medication, parenting, school intervention, or counseling will correct an attention problem that is caused by this nutritional deficiency. In a school classroom, this looks like ADHD to the teacher.

Proper nutrition is key to brain health as well as your family’s brain health. That’s why, at INDY Neurofeedback, we stress that healthy diets provide the building blocks for the brain to create and maintain neural connections.

Fad diets that dramatically reduce good and bad fats and carbs can actually be harmful to your brain! The best way to diet is to eat a balanced diet rather than completely cutting out (or dramatically reducing) important fats and carbs that your brain craves to function optimally.

Your brain needs lots of water to function effectively, too. Those eight, 8-ounce glasses of water you should consume daily help your brain think clearly every bit as much as it helps your digestion, circulation, elimination, and muscle health.

“Eat and drink wisely, for the sake of your entire body’s wellbeing,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “Eating healthily is as important to your brain’s effective performance as it is for your body’s. Make sure your diet is balanced with weekly servings of fish (the Omega-3 in fish is especially good for your brain health) and daily servings of brightly or darkly colored fruits and leafy vegetables.”


The 6 Concussion Symptoms You Should NOT Ignore

Brain injuries are much in the news — and for good reason. Recent research shows that even a single concussion can have long term health consequences, such as structural brain damage. Brain damage can lead to depression and anxiety as well as a host of other symptoms including chronic headaches, memory issues, inability to control emotions, and lifelong concentration problems.

In a recent U.S. survey of more than 3,000 men and women, 23% said they had suffered at least one concussion during their lives. Researchers believe that percentage is low, as many symptoms are subtle or develop over time, making a diagnosis difficult.

“Another problem,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “is there is no definitive, conclusive exam to diagnose a concussion. It often doesn’t show up on an MRI or a CT scan, so recognizing the symptoms is extremely important so you can get needed help as soon as possible to minimize the risk of lasting consequences.”

Here’s what to look for. Chances are you have a concussion if:

  1. You black out. If you black out even for a second or two, chances are you have a concussion, especially if you are disoriented and don’t remember how you got on the ground. Strangely though, being knocked out doesn’t mean you have a more severe concussion than if you weren’t unconscious.
  2. You have a headache that won’t go away. A pressure headache that won’t go away or gets worse when you lie down means blood flow to the brain has been affected. Doing mental or physical activities that bring more blood into the brain will also cause pain.
  3. You have trouble focusing your eyes. Double or blurry vision is a symptom, as is light sensitivity.
  4. You feel dizzy, off balance or feel sick to your stomach. If your head is spinning and you’re stumbling around, those are red flags. Even more subtle symptoms like feeling unsteady on your feet can indicate a brain injury.
  5. You feel foggy or confused. Having trouble remembering things, being unable to concentrate, or having more trouble than usual organizing tasks, solving problems, or making decisions are all signs that you’ve injured your brain.
  6. You feel lethargic and listless, or anxious and irritable. It takes a lot of energy to heal an injured brain. It’s very common to feel drowsy, lethargic, or irritable.

If you believe you or someone you care about has a concussion, take it seriously and trust your instincts.

Rest physically and cognitively during the first 48 hours or longer, depending on how you feel. Find someone to stay with you if you live alone, in case you develop symptoms of a life-threatening hematoma, characterized by loss of consciousness, inability to awaken, and/or severe headaches.

“Bottom line,” cautions Leanne, “If you’ve hit your head hard and have any of the symptoms listed above, chances are you have a concussion and should contact your doctor.”

INDY Neurofeedback can help re-train brains which suffer the lingering effects of concussion – even years after the injury. But first, you must recognize the symptoms and get medical help. The sooner, the better.

Head Injuries and Suicide

At just 23 years old, Kelly Catlin was already an American professional racing cyclist, artist and violinist. She won a silver medal for cycling in the 2016 Summer Olympics and gold medals in the women’s team pursuit in 2016, 2017, and 2018 UCI Track Cycling World Championships. Catlin took her own life at Stanford University on March 7, 2019, following an episode of depression after suffering a concussion.

Kelly Catlin was open about her struggle to balance school with her career. But after she got into a series of cycling crashes last year, breaking her arm and suffering a concussion without realizing it, she was despondent. According to family members, she tried to keep her rigorous schedule, despite vision problems and severe headaches. She struggled to complete team workouts.

In January of 2019, Catlin tried taking her life for the first time. The suicide attempt left her with lung and heart issues, forcing her to withdraw from the 2019 Track Cycling World Championships. More angry and frustrated, a few of months later, she did commit suicide, dying from asphyxiation.

“From everything we know about concussions,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “Catlin’s severe headaches, vision problems, and deep depression were not unusual symptoms. Unfortunately, it is also not unusual for concussions to remain undiagnosed even with presenting these dramatic symptoms, since there is presently no medical consensus for concussion diagnosis. Catlin’s concussion-related suicide has focused much needed interest and media attention on how traumatic brain injuries can affect mental health.”

According to the Neurology Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a concussion can increase an individual’s risk of suicide twofold (LINK: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/2712851). Another risk for Kelly Catlin was being an elite athlete. They are also at higher risk for anxiety and depression, both of which are risk factors for suicide.

“A brain injury such as a sports concussion has the potential to impact any aspect of your brain function,” says sports medicine and concussion specialist David Kruse, M.D., a USA Gymnastics Team Physician. Common concussion function issues include visual sensitivities, trouble concentrating, and sleep disturbance, all of which can also lead to changes in personality, mental status, mood, and behavior. However, the damage a concussion causes to your brain can also aggravate pre-existing brain conditions, says Dr. Kruse.

“An athlete may have no personal history of anxiety or depression but may have a family member who struggles with the condition,” explains Dr. Kruse. “We know that mental disorders can be genetic, so that athlete is already susceptible to developing anxiety or depression. If this athlete sustained a concussion, he or she would be more predisposed to developing anxiety or depression as a symptom compared to another athlete who has no family history of the condition.”

Although we don’t know whether mental health issues were present in Catlin’s family, we do now understand that family history may explain the rapid devolvement of symptoms following concussion that Catlin experienced. Hopefully her story can help others experiencing concussion-related depression. Public awareness is crucial.

“Most people don’t realize that concussions are traumatic brain injuries,” says Dr. Kruze. “Some concussions are easily recognized, but some can be subtle and pervasive, so it’s important to educate people on how concussions can present and how they can affect all aspects of brain function.”

“We all need to take brain injuries more seriously,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback.

If you or someone you know is deeply depressed or struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

After you have received medical attention for a concussion, if have lingering brain trauma issues such as difficultly with memory or concentration, INDY Neurofeedback can help you retrain your brain. Call us for a free consultation.