Brain Protection 101

If you talk to a bunch of baby boomers about the future, you’re likely to hear a variety of responses, all of which have something in common.

People are concerned about finances, they’re concerned about jobs, they’re concerned about remaining relevant, they’re concerned about their health (and the health of their children). But there’s one concern that trumps all the rest — one thing that every baby boomer I’ve ever spoken to worries about more than any of the above.

That one thing is protecting their brain.

The thought of losing one’s mind haunts every baby boomer on the planet — and most especially those who’ve had personal experience with an aging parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Think about it — who would you be without your memories? Who would you be if you could no longer remember the names of your children? If you no longer remembered what you used to do for a living, or whether or not your brother was still alive, or even if you had a brother in the first place?

That’s the situation every person who has dementia or Alzheimer’s is in, and it’s one of the most painful things in the world to observe, particularly when the person in question is someone you love.

I know this from personal experience, since my father lived with dementia for the final two years of his life.

Keeping our brains sharp and functioning optimally means protecting our memories, our ability to think and reason, our ability to interact with the world, our ability to have a meaningful and productive life. Without our brain, not much else matters.

This month we’re going to be focused on just how to best keep our brains sharp as a tack for as many years as humanly possible. And that may turn out to be quite a long time.

Protecting our brain and keeping it healthy and functioning optimally is about a lot more than taking supplements, though that’s certain one of many strategies that can help. It’s also about lifestyle choices that keep oxygen flowing through this incredibly complex neural circuitry (another of the zillions of benefits of exercise). It’s about forming connections with other people. It’s about reducing stress, which literally, physically shrinks an important part of the brain involved in memory and thinking (the hippocampus). It’s about eating the foods that provide the nutrients that keep the neural machinery well-oiled.

The things I’m going to talk about from time to time this month may not remove the risk of losing precious memory or thinking ability — nothing can completely eliminate risk.

But there are strategies that can reduce that risk, just as surely as seat belts or driving sober can significantly reduce the risk of traffic fatalities.

Those strategies will be a continuing theme throughout the newsletters this August.