Tuesday, April 23, 2024

GFH neurologist: For brain health as you age, keys are nutrition, exercise, social interaction

By Ben Westcott, Chronicle Staff Writer

Cognitive decline and its toll on quality of life are unfortunate realities for many people as they age.

Reportedly more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and that the lifetime risk at age 45 of getting the disease at some point are 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 10 for men.

Glens Falls Hospital neurologist Dr. Max Rudansky has some tips to help people keep their brains healthy and cognitive decline at bay.

“There’s many, many things that one can really proactively do to offset the ravages of the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Rudansky said.

“A lot of work is being done in the area of really looking into lifestyle factors as significantly altering the trajectory of the progression of the disease.”

He said, “Even though there’s lots and lots of money being spent in this direction, it really goes back to what your mother has always told you. What does it mean to live a healthy lifestyle? I think mind, body and spirit is the real reach of true prevention of the development of disease process.”

There’s not one single cause of Alzheimer’s. “There are many factors,” Dr. Rudansky said. “You can almost pull out any factor that you would think of as contributing to a healthier mind or person, and you will see that, absent that factor or not having it in the right way, can more likely predispose a person to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”

He said nutrition, exercise and being a more engaged social being are the most important things a person can do to stave off cognitive decline — and it’s never too early to start.

“By the time you get to a point where you have mild cognitive impairment or early dementia, you have a significant buildup of the underlying pathological abnormalities, and once you reach a certain threshold it’s very hard to reverse,” he said.

That’s why it’s best for people to build their ‘cognitive reserve’ early and often. “The main thing is creativity and curiosity,” Dr. Rudansky explained. “Studies show that people who develop those aspects of their intellect at an early age have much more cognitive reserve.”

He said a worrisome phenomenon today that is reflecting on the aging brain is over-dependency on technologies.

“It used to be you would have to learn to read a road map,” he said. “There’s all of these things that the brain used to have to actually exercise itself to do.”

Another issue is people becoming less physically engaged and more sedentary.

“In the past an overweight person would be worried about seeing their physician for pre-diabetes or a coronary artery disease,” he said.

“But those factors actually have a stronger correlation with cognitive demise than cardiovascular health.”

Dr. Rudansky said, “There was a study done not too long ago that found the number of hours watching TV has a relationship to the development of mild cognitive impairment — more hours watched, more likely to develop cognitive issues. It’s too passive a type of situation.”

Indeed, screen time is no substitute for real interaction. Dr. Rudansky shared another interesting study.

“They looked at what’s happening in the brain when a person is doing a seemingly more complex cognitive thing on a video screen or playing a simple game of Parcheesi with another person,” he explained. “The brain was much more active in the simplistic paradigm [the Parcheesi game] because it involved another human being.”

“For every organ system, you have to play to its primal strengths,” Dr. Rudansky said. “And the nervous system is basically structured as a social organ. It’s meant to interact with other human beings in a creative and purposeful way. And the studies show that the cohorts of people who sustain that prognostically will do much, much better.”

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