After running into a post in which the author asked if anyone had information/research on keeping memory healthy, I thought I'd post the following article. It is re-published (but authored by me) from my own blog:
In October, 2007, CBS program, 60 Minutes, featured the amazing, 86-year-old, Forrest M. Bird, who invented the respirator that would make the iron lung obsolete. As of the airing of the program, Dr. Bird remained certified to fly his airplane, which he continues to fly regularly. Without re-telling the fascinating life story of the pillar-straight, 6' 4"-tall, Bird, suffice it to say that this vibrant man's mental acuity most likely surpasses that of any number of 30-year-olds.
Forrest M. Bird, MD, PhD, ScD, and founder of Bird Respiratory Care Products, is, of course, no run-of-the-mill, average, guy. That, in itself, offers one clue to ways to retain cognitive functioning in advanced age. Dr. Bird may be unique in his legendary accomplishments, but he is not unique when it comes to being elderly and remaining mentally sharp. The world is full of elderly individuals who show no, or very little, in mental sharpness. Most of us know more than one elderly person who is a whole lot more on top of things in life than a lot of younger people are.
A well known brain study, which was a collaboration between collaboration between 678 Catholic sisters and Alzheimer's expert, David Snowdon, looked at the lifestyles of the aging nuns, who showed lower incidence of dementia. The nuns, who led quiet but social lives, were people who regularly engaged in activities that kept their minds active. A healthy diet was another factor. Probably needless to say, the nuns did not drink or smoke. In autopsies performed upon their death, some nuns, who had shown few or no signs of dementia while alive, were found to have brains that showed the presence of advanced Alzheimer's disease. In other words, they had Alzheimer's Disease but didn't show signs of it while they were alive.
While, of course, information gained from a study like this cannot guarantee the prevention of dementia in the presence of Alzheimer's Disease, it does offer the proverbial food for thought.
Some basic information on the "Nun Studies"/David Snowdon can be found at the following link.
Also, there's a handful of videos on YouTube about Snowdon and the studies. Search "Nun Studies" or David Snowdon".
For the individual interested in reading additional, and more "academic", material on the studies searching something like "Nun Studies, David Snowdon, Alzheimer's" will result in a handful of material that gets farther into the research/studies.
What are, then, recommended practices that could offer the best chance of fending off mental decline? The most sensible and potentially effective practices are as follows:
1. Remain mentally active. Engage in activities that make the brain work. That can be reading, doing crossword puzzles, knitting, challenging one's memory, or any number of activities that involve actively thinking (rather than watching television, which doesn't challenge the brain).
2. Get as much physical exercise as possible. Physical exercise is said to possibly be the most effective protection against any number of medical conditions. Aside from any direct benefit exercise offers the brain, the indirect benefit of keeping a body healthier, longer, should not overlooked. Not all decline in cognitive functioning is related to the presence of Alzheimer's Disease. Some can occur as a result of other medical conditions.
3. Eat a healthy diet. As with exercise, the benefits of a diet that is healthy for the body includes being healthy for the brain. (After all, the brain is part of the body.)
4. Get enough sleep. As with other "standard" health recommendations, getting enough sleep can offer a real edge when it comes to maintaining general health. Not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences, including premature aging.
5. Have Social Interaction. Remaining in touch with family and friends, and even interacting with a beloved pet, has been proven to offer benefits.
6. Don't drink.
7. Don't smoke.
8. Learn how to manage chronic stress. Under chronic stress the body goes into a stress response mode, and living in a chronic stress response mode is dangerous. Learn ways to reduce stress, even when the cause of stress cannot be eliminated. Good coping techniques, mental relaxation techniques, listening to music, getting exercise, getting fresh air, and getting one's mind off one's worries are all ways of reducing the stress response.
Finally, most elderly people who remain sharp and vibrant will tell you that remaining young at heart, and refusing to let chronological age dictate one's thinking, may just be the best place to start one's personal program of fending off mental decline.