What my grandfather taught me about brain health

My grandfather was a physician; scientifically conservative by nature, he was constantly amused by the latest ‘health’ fads. I know he would have a lot to say about the various cure-alls that frequently hit the headlines today: ginkgo biloba, chia seeds, and goji berries – the list goes on.

After my grandfather died and we went to sort through his things, we found strategically placed sticky notes around his home. They said things like ‘exercise,’ ‘climb stairs, shun elevators’, ‘do math’, and ‘fight inactivity both physical and mental’. When his memory started to fail him, he knew that lifestyle changes were the only thing he could do to support his brain health.

Prevention matters

Scientists continue to search for a pill to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but the recent Eli Lilly and Merck failures were sadly more of the same. However, there’s growing and large body of scientific literature and evidence that shows that prevention through lifestyle can fight against memory loss. Participants in the MIND diet study, which tested the impact of diet on memory health, saw a 53% reduction to their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Those in the FINGER study, which involved a range of lifestyle changes, saw a 150% improvement in brain processing speed, an 83% improvement in executive functioning, and a 25% improvement in overall cognition. The University of Cambridge in the UK believes we could prevent around a third of Alzheimer’s cases if we could change the lifestyles of at-risk patients. I personally believe this number is much higher than reports have yet been able to show.

Move for Minds

The huge potential of prevention is the reason I’m supporting Move for Minds, the genius of Maria Shriver, and powered by the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, happening this Sunday, June 4th. Move for Minds focuses on the mind/body connection of brain health, while raising funds to wipe out Alzheimer’s. It’s a day when experts and advocates come together to discuss and raise awareness about the lifestyle changes everyone can make to take care of their brain health.

The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, was created by Maria Shriver, whose personal family experience with Alzheimer’s inspired her to raise awareness about the disease and what we can do to prevent it.

Two-thirds of the of the people affected by Alzheimer’s are women, and scientists still don’t really know why. It’s critical that at the same time we raise awareness about prevention, we fund research into the causes of memory loss, and discover why some people are at higher risk than others. Understanding why certain populations are particularly vulnerable is one of the best ways to bring us closer to a cure.

What you can do

Lifestyle changes are hard; much harder than taking a pill. Anyone who’s tried to lose weight or give up smoking knows that it’s a battle every day to stay on track. But what research is showing is that, prevention is the best way to protect our brains – both in the near term and for the future. My grandfather knew this because he experienced it; and it’s a message Maria Shriver is taking to 8 cities across the United States.

This Sunday I’ll be heading to the Equinox gym in San Francisco to support the Move for Minds movement. Even if you can’t make it to the gym this Sunday, I encourage you read more about the scientifically-proven ways to support your brain health, and then find a way to exercise your body and your mind.  

Elli Kaplan

Founder & CEO of Neurotrack — Elli Kaplan is on a mission to change the conversation around the diagnosis and prevention of cognitive decline.