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A young woman plays chess in her home.

Tips to Keep Your Brain Sharp

“I’m not as sharp as I used to be.” It’s a common phrase we hear when people, especially older adults, have trouble with memory or problem solving. Like the rest of the body, our minds need consistent care and exercise to grow healthy. Luckily, there are plenty of simple lifestyle habits you can form to keep your brain sharp. 

The Basics

Keeping your mind sharp largely overlaps with the steps you take to stay generally healthy. To do that:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Stay physically active.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and very little red meat.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Have good social relationships.
An elderly woman plays puzzle games.

7 More Steps

Beyond living a healthy lifestyle, there’s plenty you can do to give your brain an extra boost: 

  1. Learn — Adding to the information stored in your brain keeps you mentally active. Learning a new skill or educating yourself keeps brain cells stimulated and communicating with each other, keeping your mind sharp. Make it a goal to learn something new and interesting every day.
  2. Play — Classic brain games like puzzles, chess, or sudoku are fun ways to “work out” your mind. Experiment and find games that you enjoy, then make them part of your daily or weekly routine. It’s a simple but joyful way to stay sharp.
  3. Repeat — We’ve been told the best way to remember someone’s name is to repeat it back to them. It’s the same with any piece of information we want to retain. For some, retention requires writing it down which is another form of repetition.
  4. Space it out — This goes with the repetition. Saying something over and over after you just heard something doesn’t really help you to retain it. Say it after half an hour, then an hour, then two hours. It’s especially good with a complex work assignment.
  5. Use all your senses — You have a better chance of recalling something you smell than when you use any of your other senses. That’s because odors take a direct route to the memory and emotion centers of the brain.
  6. Prioritize — Use apps to help keep you on schedule, or to find things. Don’t clog up your brain power trying to remember where your keys are. Put a tracking device on them and use an app to find them versus spending time digging around. Use calendar apps on your phone to remember important dates and appointments. Free your brain for other things.
  7. Believe — For older adults, joking about “senior moments” or chalking memory loss up to aging promotes a defeatist attitude. Believing in your ability to improve your brain function and keep your mind sharp, then acting on those beliefs, will help you succeed.

Keep Yourself Healthy and Active

AltaMed is here for the lifetime of our patients — from pediatrics through senior care. If mental health issues arise, our behavioral health team is available to help. Call AltaMed at (855) 425-1777 to get started today.

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Alzheimers

Alzheimer’s Symptoms to Watch For

Nearly everyone has watched an older relative struggle to recall a name, date, or story. As we age, memory loss becomes more common. That’s normal. We can’t stay sharp forever.

Yet, it may be more serious if a loved one gets lost at a store you visit frequently, begins repeating themselves often, forgets a fond memory, or fails to complete a simple task without help. These could all be signs of dementia. Dementia is a general term, but its most common form is Alzheimer’s disease.

Facts and Figures

In 2020 as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of people living with this disease doubles every five years past age 65. Symptoms first appear around age 60 and the risk increases as we get older.

Alzheimer’s involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. It’s progressive and can affect the ability to carry on conversations or perform daily activities.

It is the sixth leading cause of death among U.S. adults and the fifth leading cause of death among adults 65 and older.

Signs of Alzheimer’s

Most people notice changes in themselves before anyone else does. Sometimes, however, they don’t want to acknowledge those changes. In those instances, family and close friends should stay alert for the following and see a doctor for the cause of any one of these.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life: forgetting events, relying on sticky notes to remember things, repeating oneself.
  2. Planning or solving problems becomes hard: it’s difficult to pay bills or cook familiar recipes.
  3. Hard to complete simple tasks: it’s difficult to make calls, drive, or shop.
  4. Confusion with time or place: can’t understand an event or confusing dates.
  5. Confusing images or spatial relationships: difficulty balancing, tripping on objects because distance is hard to judge, spilling and dropping things.
  6. New problems with speaking or writing words: becomes hard to join conversations or remember simple terms.
  7. Misplacing things: putting keys where they don’t belong, for example, and not being able to retrace steps to find them.
  8. Poor judgment: becoming victim to a scam, unable to care for a pet, or failing to clean oneself.
  9. Withdrawal from people: not doing normal activities because it’s too hard to keep up with what’s happening.
  10. Changes in personality: getting upset when inappropriate, being scared and/or suspicious.

Risk Factors

Doctors and researchers are still trying to fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease. It seems people are affected differently, but there are some common factors:

  • Age — It most commonly affects people over age 65.
  • Genetics — Family history may play a role but it’s not a guarantee.
  • Lifestyle — Two studies have shown a connection to physical activity, a healthy diet, limited alcohol intake, and avoiding cigarettes to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. The same lifestyle adjustments used to reduce the risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes may also slow or stop cognitive decline.
  • Race and ethnicityAfrican Americans and Hispanics are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than non-Hispanic whites.

Treatments

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but early diagnosis can help slow the progression of the disease. There are drug and non-drug options to help treat symptoms and possibly improve quality of life. Eventually, a person with Alzheimer’s will no longer be able to care for themselves.

Family members or friends caring for someone with Alzheimer’s often neglect their own health. It has been associated with:

  • Higher levels of depression and anxiety
  • Increased use of psychoactive medications
  • Worse self-reporting of health
  • A compromised immune system
  • Increased risk of early death

Care for Yourself and Your Aging Family Members

AltaMed is here for the lifetime of our patients — from pediatrics through senior care. We can also connect you with the appropriate social services to get you relief as a caregiver and find you programs to help your aging family member.

Our behavioral health team is available to talk to you about the pressures of caring for an older family member and help you with coping mechanisms. They can also connect you with a longer-term counselor should you need it. Call AltaMed at (877) 462-2582 to get stared with us today.

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Man

Are You Practicing Good Emotional Hygiene?

It’s likely that every morning you take a shower, brush your teeth, and wash your face. These are part of a good hygiene routine.

Are you practicing emotional hygiene as well? It is just as important as your physical habits and can lead to improved overall well-being.

Just like dirt or oil builds on our bodies, the worries of life pile up too, and can build to a point where it weighs you down emotionally. It’s important to give yourself a mental “scrub” and talk to a professional about what is troubling you.

A huge number of Americans are seeking some kind of treatment for mental health issues according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, 21.6% of adults sought mental health treatment, up from 19.2% in 2019.

While more people are going to therapy, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half the population believes seeking therapy is a sign of weakness. However, taking care of your emotional health is no less important than taking care of your physical health, and will actually make you a stronger person.

The Benefits

Emotional hygiene doesn’t always involve talking to a therapist, you can talk to someone you feel safe confiding in. It can include mindfulness, meditation, adopting a positive attitude, exercise, or even scheduling time for yourself. Whatever you do to relieve stress is part of an emotional hygiene routine. Here are how those actions can benefit you:

  1. Improved mental health — According to the World Health Organization, mental health is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community." Taking care of your emotional well-being can help you achieve this state, leading to a happier and more fulfilling life.
  2. Reduced stress — Per the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your physical health, as well as your mental health. Taking care of your emotional well-being can help lighten the weight daily stressors bring and make it easier to enjoy life despite them.
  3. Better relationships — When you take care of your emotional well-being, you are better able to connect with others. Psychologist Guy Winch wrote, "When we feel good about ourselves, we are better able to be present with others and connect deeply."
  4. Improved self-esteem — Winch also wrote, "When we care for ourselves emotionally, we feel better about ourselves and our abilities." This can lead to increased confidence and self-worth.
  5. Improved productivity — When you're not distracted by negative emotions, you're better able to focus on the task at hand and get things done.
  6. Improved resilience — Taking care of your emotional well-being can help you better cope with difficult situations and bounce back from adversity.
  7. Improved overall well-being — When you take care of your emotional well-being, you're better able to enjoy life and all it has to offer.

It is difficult to maintain physical health without the emotional component and vice versa. When both mind and body are in sync, working toward your overall health, you have a better quality of life and can do so much more for yourself and those you care about.

We Are Here to Help

AltaMed is here to help you with your holistic health needs. That includes your emotional health. The behavioral health clinicians with our Behavioral Health team speak English and Spanish and are trained to help you cope with life stressors and get you through a rough time.

We offer short-term therapy to help you develop and strengthen your coping skills. We can also link you to mental health services if you need long-term services. Call us today at (855) 425-1777 to learn more.

Tips to Keep Your Brain Sharp