The risk of Alzheimer's is at play throughout our lives—not just when we're older. Here's why you should always be focusing on your brain health.
It's pretty common to equate good brain health to good mental health—we're always hearing about why it's so important to keep stress levels low, find ways to relax and unwind, take up meditation and mindfulness, and make sure we get enough shuteye. And while we can all agree it's super important for the mental-health conversation to stay top of mind, there's another part of brain health that most of us—especially those who are in their thirties and forties—don't seem to worry about.
"Many younger adults may think Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are things we need to think about only when we get older, but the truth is that dementia risk factors are at play throughout our lives, potentially even as early as in utero," says Dr. Nicole Anderson, a senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. "While there is nothing that younger adults can do now about early-life risk factors such as childhood malnutrition or low socioeconomic position, they can do something about other risk factors such as avoiding saturated fats, exercising and staying socially and cognitively engaged."
Getting this message to younger generations is the goal behind The Brain Project/Yogen Fruz Pinkberry Brain Project—the third annual installation of artwork inspired by the body's most complex organ. Created by artists and celebrities such as BirdO, Hate Copy and EDM artist Steve Aoki, the Brain Project engages a younger audience and encourages them to "consider their own brains in much the same way we consider our hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs and overall body health," says Dr. Anderson. "That is to say, the brain also responds positively to a healthy lifestyle."
Dementia is the progressive decline of cognitive function due to a degenerative brain disease, the most common being Alzheimer's, says Dr. Anderson. More than half a million Canadians are living with dementia, and there are about 25,000 new cases every year. The Alzheimer Society of Canada estimates that by 2031, nearly one million of us will be diagnosed.
Experiencing some cognitive issues as we age is to be expected (forgetting where we put our keys, retelling the same stories, etc.), but there are serious symptoms that can signal a bigger problem, such as consistently forgetting, feeling overwhelmed with decision making, getting lost in familiar surroundings, becoming more impulsive and showing poor judgement. The thing is, experts agree that focusing on early detection, thinking about brain health and adopting a healthy lifestyle early on—and sticking to it as we age—can keep the brain in good shape.
Your best bet is to do all those things that keep your heart and other organs in good working order, but don't stop there, says Dr. Anderson. "Things like learning how to play a musical instrument, learning a second language, volunteering and joining a sports team are all good ways to stay in good brain health."