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2 Alzheimer s Australia would like to thank Associate Professor Michael Woodward Medical Director, Aged & Residential Care Services, Austin Health Chief Medical Advisor, Alzheimer s Australia Vic for reviewing the information in this booklet. This guide is supported by funding from the Australian Government under the Chronic Disease Prevention and Service Improvement Fund. Disclaimer: This booklet is for information purposes only and does not purport to provide medical advice. Alzheimer s Australia and its employees are not liable for any error or omission in the information provided. The opinions expressed in this document are those of Alzheimer s Australia and not necessarily those of the Australian Government. ISBN Alzheimer s Australia Inc ABN ARBN

3 INtroduction being brain healthy is important for everyone. Your Brain Matters is a program that guides you on how to look after your brain health. Being brain healthy is important at any age, whether you re young, old or in between. Importantly, scientific research suggests that living a brain healthy life, particularly during mid-life, may reduce a person s risk of developing dementia later in life. However, there are no guarantees as dementia cannot yet be prevented or cured. Your Brain Matters is a program developed by Alzheimer s Australia based on published research evidence. To live a brain healthy life, you need to look after your brain, your body AND your heart. They are all important. THE BRAIN The brain is made up of many different parts and these work together to keep you alive and to help you make sense of, and participate in, the world around you. The brain helps you to: Plan and organise things Make decisions Understand information Pay attention Behave appropriately Remember things Speak and communicate See, hear, taste, smell and feel Read and write Recognise people and objects Breathe Control body temperature Keeping your brain healthy is important for living a fulfilling, healthy and long life. yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 1

4 2 A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

5 your brain matters There are a number of things you can do to keep your brain healthy. There are three key areas to help you live a brain healthy life: look after your Brain, Body and Heart. All of these are important in looking after your brain health. Following the Your Brain Matters guide is particularly important once you reach middle age, as this is when changes in the brain start to occur. But it s even better if you follow them throughout life. It s never too late to start either, as brain function can be improved and protected at any age. The evidence for brain health and its links to dementia risk reduction comes from many international research studies involving large groups of people. Most of the research to date has focused on Alzheimer s disease and vascular dementia, two of the most common types of dementia. Keep your brain challenged and be socially active Be fit and healthy by eating healthily and participating in regular physical activity What s good for the heart is good for the brain don t smoke, manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body weight yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 3

6 4 A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

7 Keeping your brain active matters Keep your brain challenged and be socially active. Scientists have found that challenging the brain with new activities helps to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them. This helps to give the brain more reserve or back up so that it can cope better and keep working properly if any of the brain cells are damaged or die. You ve probably heard the phrase use it or lose it. This is certainly the case when it comes to keeping your brain active and staying mentally sharp into older age. It s important to choose activities that are challenging. Rather than just doing one type of activity or those that you are good at, try different things and choose activities that you enjoy doing and make you think and learn new skills. Challenge yourself often and keep learning new things throughout life. Participating in social activities and interacting with others exercises brain cells and strengthens the connections between them. Social activities that involve mental activity and physical activity provide even greater benefit for brain health and reducing the risk of developing dementia. So try to do some of these as well. To help look after your brain health, be social in ways that interest you, that you feel comfortable with and that you enjoy. Catch up with family and friends to keep your brain active even better, catch up over a walk Sign up for a short course in something new like yoga, woodwork, photography or a new language you will learn new skills and meet new people Organise cards or games nights with friends or join a local community club Learn new things or participate in hobbies you enjoy such as painting, craft or orienteering Learn to play a musical instrument or go to the theatre or a concert yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 5

8 Being fit and healthy matters Eating healthily and participating in regular physical activity are important for a healthy body and a healthy brain. Your brain needs a range of nutrients, fluids and energy to work properly. Physical activity helps blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain, as well as promoting brain cell growth and survival. There is some evidence that suggests people who do not participate in regular physical exercise have an increased risk of developing dementia. The good news is that regular physical activity is beneficial for brain health and may reduce the risk of developing dementia. The relationship between the food you eat and dementia risk isn t yet clear. There is some evidence that a high intake of saturated fats increases the risk of developing dementia, and that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of developing dementia. It is likely that a diet that includes a higher consumption of fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats in vegetable oils and nuts and a lower intake of saturated fat in meat and dairy products can help in keeping your brain healthy. The evidence is unclear as to exactly how much and how often we should exercise, and how much of particular foods we should or shouldn t eat, specifically to reduce our risk of dementia. Follow the national dietary and physical activity guidelines. It is likely that these provide the best recipe for a healthy brain, body and heart. These recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week, eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, and avoiding saturated fat. Refer to the resources section at the back of this booklet for links to these guidelines. 6 A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

9 What about alcohol? Drinking very large quantities of alcohol over time may increase the risk of developing dementia. In fact, alcohol related dementia may be caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years. Some research indicates that drinking small to moderate amounts of alcohol may reduce your risk of developing dementia. It cannot guarantee that you won t develop dementia. So if you do not drink alcohol, there is no need to start. And if you do drink, do it in moderation. Follow the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol and avoid more than two standard drinks on any day. Refer to the resources section at the back of this booklet for a link to these guidelines. Build at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your normal daily routine Eat a variety of foods from different food groups and cut back on saturated fats Enjoy two pieces of fruit a day Include five serves of vegetables in your diet each day did you know Even moderate exercise like walking has been shown to be good for brain health. In an Australian trial, a 6 month program of physical activity (most participants chose walking) resulted in improved memory and thinking functions at the end of the trial and 18 months later. Learn to dance it s great exercise for your body and brain Include omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and other sources such as walnuts in your diet yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 7

10 8 A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

11 Looking after your heart matters Many people are not aware of the connection between heart health and brain health. The risk of developing dementia increases as a result of conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, particularly when these occur at mid-life. Research also indicates that having diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, and not treating them effectively, can damage the blood vessels in the brain and affect brain function and thinking skills. Treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity is necessary for heart health and also protects brain health. So it s important to have regular health checks and follow the advice of your health professional. The good news is that all these conditions are easily identified and treatable. If you are at risk of, or have any of these conditions, you can do something about them.this will help keep your brain sharp and reduce your risk of dementia, stroke and heart disease. Smoking should be avoided. We know it increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other diseases. Studies have shown that people who smoke have a greater chance of developing dementia than people who do not smoke. There is no safe level of smoking. If you do smoke, seek medical advice on steps you can take to help you quit. Have your blood pressure checked regularly If you re 45+, you should get regular heart and stroke risk assessments What s good for the heart is good for the brain speak to your GP about checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight regularly Speak to your health professional for advice on how to lose excess weight Avoid smoking. Speak to your health professional or call Quitline on for help on how to quit yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 9

12 what else can you do? We still have a lot to learn about dementia what causes it and what we can do to avoid it. As well as looking after your brain, body and heart to live a brain healthy life and reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life, here are other things you can do: Avoid head injury A severe injury to the brain seems to be associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. This doesn t mean that you will get dementia if you have suffered a serious head injury just that your risk is greater on average than someone who hasn t suffered a serious head injury. So it s important to wear adequate head protection when doing certain activities such as riding a bike or motorbike, rollerblading and playing certain sports. Also play it safe when using ladders and avoid falls. Manage depression Depression may also be associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. Evidence is emerging about the physical effects that depression can have on the brain. It is clearly important to identify and treat depression. Preventing new episodes of depression may be useful to brain health. Effective treatment is available, so see a health professional if concerned. 10 A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

13 BrainyApp tm If you would like a fun and interactive way of looking after your brain health, then download BrainyApp on your smartphone or tablet. BrainyApp can help you rate and track your brain health, providing you with a range of ideas on how to improve it. BrainyApp is available for Apple and Android devices. Scan the QR codes below to download BrainyApp on your device today, or visit brainyapp.com.au for more information. Download app for iphone, ipad, and ipod touch Download app for yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 11

14 12 A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

15 what is dementia? Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person s normal social or working life. Dementia gradually affects a person s ability to carry out daily tasks so that it can be difficult to live independently. Daily tasks such as driving, shopping, getting dressed, eating, managing money, reading, speech and writing may all be affected. There are a number of different types of dementia. The most common is Alzheimer s disease. Other common types include Lewy body disease, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Many people live to very old age without being affected by significant memory and thinking changes. ARE YOU AT RISK OF GETTING DEMENTIA? Dementia is caused by diseases that damage the brain, such as Alzheimer s disease. What causes the disease in most cases is still unknown, but it is likely to be a combination of factors. An increasing body of research suggests that certain lifestyle and health characteristics may increase or decrease your risk of developing dementia. Risk and protective factors for dementia can be classified under two categories: non-modifiable and modifiable factors. Non-modifiable factors are those that you are not able to control or change through lifestyle and habits. These include your genetics and old age. Modifiable factors are those that you can potentially change. These include mental stimulation, being socially active, diet, physical activity, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, obesity, not drinking excessively and not smoking. yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 13

16 glossary We ve put together a glossary of useful words and phrases that you might come across in this booklet and at yourbrainmatters.org.au Antioxidants Body Mass Index or BMI Brain reserve Cholesterol Cognitive function Mid-life Monounsaturated fats Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances found in food that help to prevent damage to cells by free radicals. Free radicals are formed during normal metabolism and are by-products of the complex chemical processes that take place in the cells of our bodies. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight and applies to adult women and men. The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing classification of BMI indicates that a healthy BMI for an adult is between 18.5 and 25. BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared, ie BMI = weight (kg) height 2 (m). For example if you weigh 70 kilograms and your height is 1.70 metres, your BMI is 70 (1.7 x 1.7) = Brain reserve refers to the brain s ability to re-organise itself and build new connections. By challenging the brain with new activities and being physically active, you can help to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them. Cholesterol is a type of fat carried in our blood and is an essential part of the body s metabolic processes. The body generally produces all the cholesterol it needs and eating too much saturated fat leads to excess cholesterol in our blood stream. Cognitive function refers to a range of high-level brain functions, including the ability to learn and remember information, initiate and stop actions, make and modify decisions, reasoning, planning and language skills. Mid-life, or middle age, is a normal developmental life stage and usually refers to those aged between 40 and 65. Monounsaturated fats, also known as monounsaturated fatty acids, can assist with lowering blood cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, canola oil, macadamia oil, avocado, nuts, and margarines that are labelled monounsaturated. 14 A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

17 Obesity Omega-3 fatty acids Polyunsaturated fats Saturated fats Transunsaturated fats or Trans fats Obesity is most commonly measured using the BMI weight to height ratio. An adult with a BMI of over 25.0 is considered overweight. An adult with a BMI of over 30.0 is considered obese. Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of unsaturated fats that have a role in regulating blood pressure and blood clotting, in helping to maintain a healthy immune system, and assisting brain and spinal cord function. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in cold water fish (salmon, tuna and sardines), flax (linseeds and cold pressed linseed oil), soya beans, walnuts, and dark green leaves (spinach and silverbeet). Polyunsaturated fats, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids, are an essential part of the diet. Two important types are omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 type fats are found in vegetable oils such as canola and sunflower and are essential for growth, cell structure, maintaining a healthy immune system and help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are those that tend to be solid at room temperature and can be found in whole milk, cream, butter, hard cheese, meats, coconut oil, palm oil, chicken skin, biscuits and pastries. Many fast food products, processed meats and deep fried food also contain saturated fats. Saturated fats contribute to the risk of heart disease by raising blood cholesterol levels. Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are unsaturated fats that behave similarly to saturated fats and can raise blood cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease. Trans fats can be found naturally in small amounts in meat, milk and cheese. They are also created during the manufacture of some table margarines and in solid spreads used to make baked products such as pies, pastries, cakes and biscuits. yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 15

18 resources The following are links to useful websites you may wish to visit to help you live a brain healthy life: Your Brain Matters A guide to healthy hearts and minds yourbrainmatters.org.au National Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults BC3101B1FF200CA4CA256F /$File/adults_phys.pdf Dietary Guidelines for All Australians n29-n30-n31-n32-n33-n34 Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol Healthy and Active Australia website The following resources are available at yourbrainmatters.org.au: Your Brain Matters bilingual Help Sheets Targeting brain, body and heart for cognitive health and dementia prevention Alzheimer s Australia Paper 29 Brain Health and Dementia Prevention Summary of the evidence presented in Alzheimer s Australia s Paper A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

19 yourbrainmatters.org.au A guide to healthy hearts & minds 17

20 About Alzheimer s Australia We re leading Australia in the fight against dementia Alzheimer s Australia offers support, information, education and counselling For more information visit our website fightdementia.org.au Call the National Dementia Helpline on Translating and Interpreting Service A guide to healthy hearts & minds yourbrainmatters.org.au

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