Monday 26th February, 2018
Fernhill House embraces suggestions in professor’s memory boosting book
A popular science book by a world
leading neuropsychiatry professor offers some helpful tips for older people on
His advice includes keeping the brain
mentally active, taking regular exercise, engaging in social interaction and
eating well – all opportunities available in droves at Fernhill House.
The home is regularly adding
to its packed activity programme – with dancers, musicians and speakers among its
visitors, regular outings, exercise classes,
alternative therapies such as sound therapy and reiki, quizzes and a
mouthwatering menu created by an award winning chef.
“Our Ageing Brains” by Andre Aleman,
Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry at the University Medical Centre in
Groningen in the Netherlands, looks at why and how our brains age and how we
can slow the erosion of brain function.
Prof Aleman explains that the
volume of the brain shrinks by about 15 per cent between the ages of 30 and 90.
But while scientists used to believe no new neurons were generated once we
reached adulthood, latest research indicates that most brain cells remain
reasonably intact until we die, with thousands of new neurons produced daily,
even in the older brain.
The professor explains that diet, exercise,
social interaction and intellectual stimulation all play a vital role in
keeping our brains alert.
Cutting calories reduces oxidative
stress, the process that occurs when chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen
are produced in greater numbers than normal. Some of these molecules are ‘free
radicals’, which can cause damage to cells, including the neurons in the brain.
Avoid eating too many carbohydrates
and sugars. In combination with little exercise, this increases the risk of
diabetes, which is bad for the brain and can hasten dementia. Opt instead for a balanced diet
including proteins, grains, vegetables and fruits.
A Dutch study showed
improved brain function results from the consumption of lignans, hormone-like
substances found in plants such as sesame seeds, linseed oil, broccoli,
cabbage, peaches, and strawberries.
There is evidence that brain functioning in older people is
heavily dependent on vitamin B12, which is found in foods including beef and
cod and is also available in B12-enriched soy milk and yeast extracts such as
Around a quarter of old people are deficient in B12.
Other dietary benefits can be
gained from omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon
and herring which have positive effect on the cell walls of our neurons,
enabling better transport of the substances needed for them to function
Cognitive training is also
important in keeping our brains busy, with a study at the University of
Southern California showing that it can improve cognitive functions by 10 per
Exercise is also beneficial -
possibly because of better oxygen flow to the brain. It also stimulates the
release of chemicals that promote the healing of damaged tissue, along with the
growth of brain cells and the formation of new connections between them.
In one study of 120 participants
with an average age was 67, those who undertook moderate-intensity exercise for
a year saw a growth of two per cent in the hippocampus, the part of the brain
which is essential to storing information in the memory. It is normal in people
of that age to have shrunk by 1.5 per cent.
Research into large numbers of
people who exercise regularly has shown that it reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s
by as much as 50 per cent.
Even people who only began to
exercise at the age of 60 can benefit, and the recommendation for people over
55 is half an hour of moderately intensive exercise on at least five days, and
preferably every day, of the week.
Studies have shown that people who
have worked their whole lives with their brains have a lower risk of developing
Alzheimer’s. Working past retirement age is a good way to remain mentally
Another study involved older people
who became volunteer teaching assistants with preschool children who
experienced increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain
which is key to memory, and their ability to perform various mental tasks
Activities such as using the
computer, playing games and engaging in creative activities have also been
shown to improve mental functioning. And there is evidence that, rather than
just developing the particular skills required for each activity, participants
increased their mental capacity across the board.
Other brain-boosting activities include learning a new language or
musical instrument. A study of 70 healthy people between the ages of 60 and 83
showed that those who regularly played an instrument scored better on a variety
of neuropsychological tests.