Wrap Your Mind Around a Healthy Brain

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It’s the control center that expresses your personality and guides your actions. A healthy brain allows you to remember, learn, plan, concentrate and function in the world. It’s the processor and synthesizer that manages information, employs logic, gives you perspective and translates experience into wisdom.

The brain naturally shrinks with age, but that doesn’t mean you’re losing your essential brain power. It’s entirely possible to maintain your creativity, wisdom and personality over a lifetime.

“There’s some normal forgetfulness as we get older,” says Larry Lawhorne, MD, geriatrician with Wright State Physicians — Geriatrics in Dayton, Ohio. He draws an analogy of the brain as a big filing cabinet (or computer) with a bunch of files. 

“Being engaged in social activities and relationships is intimately related to brain health,” Dr. Lawhorne asserts.

“As we try to remember, we have to think which drawer, which folder, which piece of paper holds the information I want. With age, it takes longer to retrieve that information,” he explains. 

“People may have trouble with names or word finding, but most of that’s very benign. This benign forgetfulness can be exasperating or even scary, but the big thing is that it doesn’t interfere with everyday life.” 

Even so, Dr. Lawhorne says health care providers don’t discount these tendencies, which in some cases are early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more on diagnosing dementia.

Dr. Lawhorne says society bombards all age groups with so much information that most of us are simply unable or unwilling to retain it all. 

He commends older generations for discernment and not being distracted from what matters. “Older people are pretty good at discarding junk, in terms of what they remember. They are not wrapped up in multi-tasking and are more content to finish one task at a time.”

Another positive aspect of aging is the wisdom and sense of self that evolves, he adds. The experiences of a lifetime may create greater emotional balance and better integration of left and right brains. 

Dr. Lawhorne comments, “A lot of people, as they get older, are able to see both sides of a situation. They have a more global, humanistic view. I have several 90-something patients who still mentor people.” 

What Helps and Hurts Your Brain?

Although you can’t change your genetic makeup, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to keep your brain healthy. Healthy Brain small

“Being engaged in social activities and relationships is intimately related to brain health,” Dr. Lawhorne asserts. He says frequent interactions with a spouse, close friends and family members is like giving the brain a little plant food and water to keep it thriving. 

Studies show that exercising can delay the brain’s aging process and even reverse it. On the other hand, factors such as smoking, poor sleep, excessive drinking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol all can have potentially harmful effects on the brain.

Manufacturers of myriad supplements want to convince you that their products will help your memory, but there’s conflicting evidence on their effectiveness, Dr. Lawhorne says. “If you have money to burn and want to buy these products, OK. They’re not going to hurt you. But think about what you might be able to spend that money on to have fun. I’d rather travel to visit my grandson than buy some of these things.”

If you’re wondering about activities such as crossword puzzles and brain-training computer games, they don’t appear to challenge your brain enough to boost your thinking power. However, mental activity of any kind is always a plus.

Learn seven ways to keep your brain healthy and read about Alzheimer’s disease myths.

Larry Lawhorne, MD

Larry Lawhorne, MD

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