With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the country, many Americans are looking forward to resuming activities. This June, during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging people in Nassau and Suffolk counties to make brain health an important part of the summer.
“The past year has been difficult for us all,” said Douglas E. Davidson, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Long Island Chapter. “And chronic stress, which we experienced during the pandemic, can impact memory and mood and increase feelings of anxiety. That’s why we want everyone to make brain health a priority during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month and beyond.”
The Alzheimer’s Association, Long Island Chapter offers five tips to promote brain health and to help Long Island residents improve mental well-being:
- Recommit to Brain-Healthy Basics
Evidence suggests that healthy behaviors took a back seat for many Americans during the pandemic. Gym memberships were put on hiatus, social activities became more challenging, and many Americans swapped out healthy meals for favorite comfort foods, take-out, and more frequent snacking. One study published recently found participants gained nearly 1.5 pounds per month over the past year, on average.
- The Alzheimer’s Association — through its U.S. POINTER Study — is examining the role lifestyle interventions, including diet, may play in protecting cognitive function. Right now, many experts agree that people can improve their brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, preferably in combination, including:
- Exercise regularly — Regular cardiovascular exercise helps increase blood flow to the body and brain, and there is strong evidence that regular physical activity is linked to better memory and thinking.
- Maintain a heart-healthy diet — Stick to a schedule of meals full of fruits and vegetables to ensure a well-balanced diet. Evidence suggests a healthy diet is linked to cognitive performance. The Mediterranean and DASH diets are linked to better cognitive functioning and also help reduce risk of heart disease.
- Get good sleep — Maintaining a regular, uninterrupted sleep pattern benefits physical and psychological health and helps clear waste from the brain. Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night and try to keep a routine bedtime.
- Stay socially and mentally active — Meaningful social engagement may support cognitive health, so stay connected with friends and family. Engage your mind with activities like completing a jigsaw puzzle or playing strategy games. Or challenge yourself by learning a new language or musical instrument.
- Return at Your Own Pace
Some Americans are eager to resume previous activities following the pandemic, while others are wary. One recent survey found that nearly half of adults (49%) report feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. For those feeling anxious, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests taking small steps. You can set boundaries and communicate your preferences to others in your social circles.
- Help Others
There is evidence to suggest that helping others during the pandemic may make you feel better, too. Research shows that helping others in a crisis can be an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety. One study published during the pandemic found that adults over age 50 who volunteer for about two hours per week have a substantially reduced risk of dying, higher levels of physical activity, and an improved sense of well-being. To help others and yourself during June and throughout the year, volunteer in your community, run errands or deliver meals to a home-bound senior or donate to a favorite cause, such as supporting participants in the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day event on June 20.
- Unplug and Disconnect
Technology has dominated our lives during the pandemic like never before. While technology has kept us connected through COVID-19, it has also created fatigue for many Americans. Experts warn that excessive stimulation coming from our phones, computers, social media, and news reports can add to our already heightened anxiety levels. To avoid technology overload, experts advise setting limits on your screen time, not carrying your phone everywhere, and disconnecting from digital devices at bedtime.
- Control Your Stress Before It Controls You
In small doses, stress teaches the brain how to respond in healthy ways to the unexpected, inconvenient, or unpleasant realities of daily life. Prolonged or repeated stress, however, can wear down and damage the brain, leading to serious health problems including depression, anxiety, memory loss, and increased risk for dementia. Reports indicate that Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are especially vulnerable to physical and emotional stress. The Alzheimer’s Association offers ways to help manage caregiver stress. Meditation, exercise, listening to music, or returning to a favorite activity you have missed during the pandemic are some ways to manage stress. Do what works best for you.
Douglas E. Davidson said, “It’s important to know there are steps we can all take to lessen stress and anxiety. It can be easy to take brain health for granted, but now more than ever, it’s a good idea to make it a priority.”
Currently, the Alzheimer’s Association and representatives from more than 40 countries are working together to study the short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the brain and nervous system in people at different ages, and from different genetic backgrounds.
About Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month
Created by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2014, Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month is dedicated to encouraging a global conversation about the brain and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, available resources and how you can get involved to support the cause, visit alz.org.
About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.