Local expert shares tips for improving and maintaining brain health

Like every part of your body, your brain responds to healthy behaviors, according to Christina Gettens, DNP, AGNP-C, Dementia Care Specialist at Dignity Health Yavapai Regional Medical Group (YRMG), Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program.

Now is a good time to talk about brain-healthy behaviors since June – Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month – will be here soon. Let’s get ready by taking a look at seven ways Gettens says you can love your brain.

  1. Break a sweat. “Regular cardiovascular exercise that raises your heart rate is at the top of every list,” said Gettens, who is affiliated with YRMG’s Dementia Screening Clinic as well as the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program. “Regular cardiovascular exercise – and it doesn’t need to be extremely vigorous – keeps blood flowing to the brain.”
  2. Fuel up. A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat and sugar can reduce your risk of some forms of dementia. Staying hydrated is important, too. Experts recommend six to eight glasses (48 to 64 ounces) of water every day.
  3. Stop smoking. If you smoke, there’s another reason to quit. Recent research suggests that people who light up well into their sixties are putting their brain health at risk.
  4. Sleep well. Hypoxia, or low oxygen levels, can affect how your brain functions over time. The YRMG team often recommends sleep studies to measure oxygen levels during sleep as part of a comprehensive assessment.
  5. Fill out your social calendar. Research shows that getting together with friends, volunteering or attending enrichment classes can lower your risk for dementia, much the way physical activity helps prevent diabetes or heart disease. Even simple activities – walks with friends or board games with the grandkids – are good for your brain health.
  6. Manage your risk factors. It’s important to manage any chronic health issues that impair circulation or affect your brain’s supply of oxygen and glucose.

“High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes or being overweight can increase your risk for cognitive impairment and dementia,” Gettens said. “Mental health issues, like depression, also need to be addressed to protect your cognitive health.”

  1. Protect your head. A serious fall that involves a head injury can be detrimental to older adults. That’s why YRMG’s screening includes a functional evaluation to identify people at high risk for falls and teach them ways to prevent such accidents.

For more information, visit DignityHealth.org/YRMG or call the Dementia Screening Clinic at 928.775.5567 or the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program at 928.327.5504.