Senior Health : Build Brain Strength

Jane Glenn Haas

What if you spent a week eating the right diet, exercising and stimulating your brain with fun-to-do mind games?

How about adding some stress-reduction techniques?

What if you did all this and, at the end of the week, got proof your brain was healthier?

And suppose you saw these benefits no matter what age you started -- 40, 60, even 80?

A healthier brain usually means greater longevity. And greater longevity with less fear of developing Alzheimer's.

It's not only possible, it's probable that a personalized program can build individual brain strength, says Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the university's Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior. Small is also a professor of psychiatry at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine.

Small developed a breakthrough program for keeping brains younger, and he will describe his program at the June 12 WomanSage meeting. His new book is "The Alzheimer's Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life."

Gigi Vorgan, a writer and producer of feature films, is coauthor of the book with her husband. Together, they also wrote the New York Times best-seller "The Memory Bible."

… I talked to Small about the quizzes and self-evaluation included in his new book:

Q: There are some 80 million baby boomers starting to reach 65, and studies show that right now, 1 in every 2 people will develop some sort of dementia by their 80s. That means 40 million people! What can be done?

A: We can't guarantee some of these people won't get dementia, because genetics are partially to blame here. But the idea of the book is to take care of what you can and stave off symptoms as long as possible.

A brain-healthy lifestyle should let you stave off symptoms for at least four or more years. The hard part is to make those healthy behaviors routine for people.

Q: What's your plan?

A: First, educate people so they understand the connections between good behavior and good health. Next, introduce some brain games that are easy, stimulating and work! My seven-day jump start program is not daunting. It's fun, actually. And besides helping your brain, you may lose a few pounds.

Q: Is this program for everyone?

A: It has two important components: It will bolster brain health and it will help you with age-related cognitive decline. But it won't do everything, of course.

If you want to get an assessment of where you are, contact us at UCLA. We can do an assessment.

Q: How quickly can I expect results?

A: If you've been sick and on your back, when you feel better you start physical therapy. And you start at a lower level and train until you get to the next level. With memory exercises, you build up gradually also.

What do you tell people they need to do as they age?

Well, first they need to have an advance directive in place. That's critical. Then, we are finding people can live for many years with good nursing care.

So after the advance directive, it's important to take control of your brain health. You know, genetics only determines the future for about a third of us. If we learn to eat right, exercise and manage stress right now, it will help us so much in the future. It could even increase your life expectancy.

(Contact the writer:

©2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) Distributed by Mclatchy-Tribune News Service

Search Site