Last week, I attended the 15th annual Chronic Disease Prevention Symposium for one of my clients — the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. It was two days of up-to-date research and information on how to prevent a variety of health problems. These include hypertension control, brain health to include Alzheimer’s and dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation control, and obesity’s link to cancer.
Some of the information I already knew because my job as a health and wellness coach keeps me abreast of health trends. But, a refresher course is a good thing, especially with so much new research information becoming available.
One fascinating area of chronic disease is brain health. How can we protect ourselves against Alzheimer’s and dementia as we age? Dr. Victor A. Hirth — chief of the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Geriatrics Division and medical director of the Palmetto Health USC Medical Group — was one of the speakers. He said that chronic diseases of the brain are expected to triple by 2050 if people fail to start making lifestyle changes now. He talked about the risk factors — which include family history, aging, brain injury, low vitamin D levels, physical inactivity, obesity, low cognitive or problem-solving activity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and air and noise pollution.
He described the benefits of following a Mediterranean diet; getting key vitamins from diet without pills, especially Vitamin E; moving the body at least 150 minutes per week (walking about six miles); maintaining lifelong learning; and staying engaged with others.
Surprising were his comments about working crossword puzzles, taking painkilling Motrin and other anti-inflammatory over the counter drugs, and taking estrogen or testosterone replacements and how they do little or nothing to improve brain health.
Dr. Hirth stressed that it’s never too late to make lifestyle changes, and the sooner you get started, the better. Chronic brain disease often starts 10 years before diagnosis. He was not talking about forgetting where you put your keys and other mundane matters. He was talking about memory loss plus loss of executive function (paying bills, for instance), consistent difficulty naming things, disorientation when driving, loss of interest in hobbies and social interactions.