Think of your brain as your body’s control center. It’s responsible for everything from breathing to problem-solving to storing memories. “If the brain doesn’t function, you can kind of forget the rest of the body,” says Dung Trinh, M.D. He is chief medical officer of Healthy Brain Clinic in Long Beach, California.
With everything your brain does for you, you might be wondering how you can support all its hard work. Read on to learn more about your brain — and what you can do to keep it healthy.
Another great way to keep you and your brain healthy? Getting affordable medical care. A health insurance plan can help with that. Get more details now or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.
The human brain is made up of 100 billion brain cells (neurons), but they don’t all do the same job. Different parts of the brain have different responsibilities. These are the key areas:
The cerebrum, which takes up most of the space inside the skull, is divided into 2 sides that work together. Perhaps surprisingly, the right side controls the left side of the body, and vice versa.
Like any part of the body, the brain can become damaged or diseased. But brain health is about more than just avoiding brain illness, explains neuropsychologist Stephanie Peabody, Psy.D. She is the founder and executive director of the Brain Health Initiative, a global nonprofit headquartered in the Suncoast region of Florida.
Brain health is also about performance, including how the brain interacts with the mind and body. “This includes our ability to concentrate, remember, communicate, learn and maintain a clear, active mind,” she says, “as well as to engage with the outer world.”
Experts view brain health as having 4 areas:
Many medical professionals have a role in treating brain health issues, including medical doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists.
While both psychologists and psychiatrists help people manage their mental health, their treatment approaches are different. A psychologist uses talk therapy and behavioral therapy, while a psychiatrist, who has a medical degree, can also prescribe medication. But anyone can take steps to maintain and improve their brain health.
“In my mind, brain health is discipline,” says Elana Clar, M.D., a neurologist at New Jersey Brain and Spine. “It is the efforts we go through to keep our mind sharp and prioritize both our emotional well-being and physical well-being.”
At some point in your life, you may deal with a health issue involving your brain. According to recent research, some of the most common brain disorders are:
Read on to learn more about some of the most common brain health conditions.
A migraine is like a headache on steroids. It can cause severe pain, exhaustion, nausea and confusion. Migraines are most common in women and people with a family history of the condition. While there’s no cure for migraines, they can be treated. Some mild migraines can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, while moderate to severe migraines may require a prescription medication to manage symptoms.
A stroke occurs when blood can’t reach some part of the brain, either because a blood vessel breaks or a blood clot stops the flow. Strokes are serious; they can cause disability and even death. You can help reduce your risk of having a stroke by eating a heart-healthy diet, managing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, quitting smoking and getting regular exercise.
A brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in the brain. Some are benign (noncancerous) and others are malignant (cancerous). Both types have similar symptoms, including:
Treatments may include chemotherapy (the use of extremely strong drugs), radiation therapy (usually targeted high-powered X-rays) and surgery.
Degenerative nerve diseases, which are diseases that affect the nervous system, include Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). These conditions can affect everything from balance to speech to heart function. Causes include genetics, alcoholism and exposure to chemicals and other toxins. There is currently no cure for them, and the treatments can only lessen symptoms and, sometimes, delay progression of the disease.
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a sudden injury from a blow or jolt to the head. Symptoms can range from temporary headaches to behavior and mood change.
TBIs are not easy for doctors to diagnose. Depending on the cause of the injury — contact sports, a car accident, a fall — people may experience everything from headaches, changes in mood and dizziness to seizures, gait imbalance, visual changes and memory loss.
When diagnosing TBI, doctors need to figure out the severity level of the injury — whether it is mild, moderate or severe. A concussion (a brain injury from the head being hit) is considered a mild form of TBI. TBI treatments range from rest for a mild TBI to surgery, physical therapy and psychological counseling for a moderate or severe TBI.
Protecting your head is one of the best ways to prevent TBI. That means doing your best to avoid falls, always using a seatbelt in the car, and wearing a properly fitted helmet when riding a bicycle, skateboard or playing contact sports. Falls are the most common cause of TBI in adults ages 65 and older, while car crashes are the most common cause in young adults.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is when there’s an increase in thinking or memory problems. It’s a common, though not inevitable, part of aging. Nearly 12% of adults ages 65 and over report subjective cognitive decline, which means they believe that their cognitive problems are getting worse or happening more often. Cognitive decline can lead to stress and difficulty with daily activities such as cooking, driving and paying bills.
In some people, MCI progresses to dementia. (Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form.) People with dementia lose their ability to think, remember and do activities in their daily life. Personality changes are also possible. About a third of people ages 85 and older experience dementia. There’s no cure, but treatment can help slow down the disease.
“There are many types of dementia,” says Dr. Clar. And they can affect people differently. While “dementia” is frequently characterized as being forgetful, some types of dementia can be associated with personality changes, difficulty articulating thoughts and having visual hallucinations (seeing things that don’t exist).
While it’s not always easy to figure out, there are some ways to differentiate between MCI and dementia. “Knowing an individual’s history is important,” Peabody says. “If someone has a history of misplacing common items (keys or glasses), it may not raise much concern. But when the keys are placed in the freezer, that may indicate a potential issue.”
Doctors believe that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with the buildup of an abnormal protein called beta-amyloid, which forms a plaque in the brain. “By the time a patient has their very first memory loss from Alzheimer’s dementia,” says Dr. Trinh, “this plaque has been there and has been accumulating quietly for 15 to 20 years.”
Dr. Trinh focuses on 3 “buckets” of factors that play a role in the development of the plaque: circulation problems, chronic inflammation and exposure to toxins. “It’s not all genetics,” he says. “Yes, there are actually over 70 genetic regions associated with Alzheimer’s, but having a gene does not condemn you to the diagnosis.”
Brain problems — especially Alzheimer’s disease and dementia — are frightening, but there are ways to help your brain stay healthy. Studies have indicated that 35% of dementia cases may be able to be prevented by reducing risk factors.
While there are many risk factors that can affect brain health, making the right lifestyle choices can help protect you from getting a brain illness. “The scientific evidence is mounting that highlights the importance of a brain-healthy lifestyle for individuals of all ages across the world,” says Peabody.
Here are 10 things you can do to help keep your brain healthy:
It may sound like a long to-do list, but in some cases you can tackle several of them at once. For example, eating right will help keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control.
Dr. Trinh recommends following the MIND diet, which is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Both the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet focus on eating more plant-based foods and healthy fats and avoiding sweets and red meat. In one study, that diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s by 53%.
Have a family history of dementia and want to keep your brain healthy? Build a strong relationship with your doctor and visit them regularly. Get more health insurance details now or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730 to discuss your options.
Assess your brain health with regular screenings. Peabody recommends Brain Health Vital Signs, which is an easy-to-use tool that helps you screen your brain health.
If you’re a Medicare member, your provider may give you a cognitive assessment at your annual wellness visit. These regular assessments will show how your brain health is changing over time.
If you’re having trouble handling day-to-day tasks, you should consider getting help. Some signs that you or a loved one may want to talk to a doctor about your brain health include:
The [above] is provided as general information only. It is not intended to diagnose or recommend treatment of any illness, disease or condition. You should consult a qualified medical professional if you have questions or need more information.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Subjective Cognitive Design.” February 27, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/data/subjective-cognitive-decline-brief.html
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