Dementia and the Healthy Brain

As our population ages, it is now estimated that for the US and other industrialized nations, the number of individuals diagnosed with neurocognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, will continue to increase. The CDC noted that, in 2017, complications from Alzheimer's was the sixth leading cause of death for individuals in the United States who are 65 and older. Worldwide, the incidence of dementia is thought to be on the increase, with researchers estimating that the diagnosis of Dementia will triple by 2050.

Neurocognitive Disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are some of the most misunderstood conditions, as they are irreversible, and at times, difficult to diagnose. Even physicians who specialize in these disorders consider them a challenge to both diagnose and treat. All cognitive disorders have in common challenges with problem-solving, reasoning and memory, and they can also have other complicating symptoms.

As we think about ways to support our brain health, research points to practical ways to enhance neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to change throughout our lifetimes. Previously thought of as having a limited capacity for development beyond childhood, we now know that adult brains are much more malleable; data from brain "plasticity" studies involving adult brain trauma rehabilitation and work with dementia patients suggest that supporting brain health by minimizing various risk factors can play a role in mitigating some of the risk factors for dementia in older adults. Addressing mood issues was noted as one of the ways to potentially reduce risk-factors for dementia, as highlighted in an article in The Lancet in July, 2017. The following were among the key recommendations that may have a considerable impact on maintaining brain health:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure
  • Eliminate smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Address symptoms of depression and social isolation

Although there are no definitive conclusions, there is some evidence to suggest that taking care of our mental health can serve as a way to minimize the cognitive decline that often accompanies aging. Further, there is ample evidence that chronic feelings of loneliness and sadness contribute to a lowered sense of overall well-being.

Vanderbilt offers support for all Vanderbilt faculty, staff, nurses, physicians, and their spouses through our Work/Life Connections - Employee Assistance Program. Trained mental health professionals who can assess the need for individual counseling or other interventions for support are here on campus, and free of charge. Even the most resilient person struggles from time to time. Talking with a counselor is one way anyone can support their brain health. Call for a consultation: 615-936-1327.

Janet McCutchen, LPC, CEAP
Licensed Professional Counselor
Certified Employee Assistance Professional

(Source: The Lancet, Vol. 390, No. 10113 Published: July 19, 2017)

(Source: Center for Disease Control National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, September, 2017)