27 Oct 2014
PROFESSOR HENRY BRODATY and PROFESSOR PERMINDER SACHDEV
In historical times, the elderly were highly revered. Wisdom and knowledge were respected and ageing was seen as a positive experience. Over the decades, our opinion of ageing has shifted and certainly in parts of the first-world ageing has become a loaded term. ‘Being old’ is sometimes associated – particularly by many of the younger generation - with health issues and decline. From the perspective of everyone at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), it’s time to stop that trend and re-think the meaning of ageing.
Positive ageing is the Holy Grail in the context of getting older. It means to achieve a full life span and enjoy a good quality of life unaffected by loss of cognitive ability. How do we achieve positive ageing? Through a healthy brain. With more research suggesting that many of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are lifestyle-related, it is essential that we all do what we can to work toward not just a longer life, but a more enjoyable and capable one.
Research from around the world is providing more evidence that the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, can be delayed by adopting a healthier diet and participating in regular exercise. The World Alzheimer Report 2014, released on 17 September, delivered a clear message that population risk can be reduced if we follow the advice: “What is good for the heart is good for the brain”.
Current thinking suggests it takes 25 years from the beginning of the disease to the development of the first symptoms, so delaying that process will have enormous social and economic benefits.
If we can halve the rate of that process, and build it up over 50 years, then we can delay it showing up until after we’ve died.
Importantly, it is never too late, or too early, to make lifestyle changes to improve brain health. High impact changes that help our brains age better include:
- Keeping a normal blood pressure
- Avoiding obesity and keeping a normal weight
- Doing regular exercise
- Avoiding diabetes and managing it well if it develops
- Stopping smoking
- Limiting alcohol
- Eating a diet low in saturated fat and high in antioxidants
- Consistently engaging in complex mental activity (such as learning a new language or acquiring other skills)
- Staying socially connected
- Avoiding head injuries.
We have put in place a group of dedicated health and fitness enthusiasts (the CHeBA Champions) who are championing healthy brain ageing from a young age. This dynamic group in their 20s and 30s are promoting the Centre’s vision and research through fitness endeavours, and educating their peers on the impact of lifestyle choices upon our brain health in late life. Increased cardiovascular health, regulated blood glucose levels and a healthy blood pressure are all important factors for a healthy brain.
The potential of this initiative is not limited to younger generations.
Increasingly, researchers are showing that it is never too late to improve your brain health. Simple, incremental lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on brain health at any age and we encourage all Australians to participate in championing healthy brain ageing. With cardiovascular health a crucial factor in brain health, CHeBA proudly promoted positive ageing in the 2014 City 2 Surf with team members in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Our youngest runner was just 14 years of age and her 84 year old grandfather completed the course for the second time for CHeBA. Another sensational representative of positive ageing was CHeBA’s Sydney Memory & Ageing Study participant, Mr Derek Nelson, who at 80 years of age has run every City 2 Surf since the initial event in 1971. He ran the entire course in 1 hour 50 minutes – 11 minutes faster than the previous year.
It is never too late to put in place positive steps to prevent cognitive decline in late life and at CHeBA we are encouraging everyone to join our community and implement lifestyle changes that start a new chapter in ageing.
Imagine for a moment every generation in Australia changing the way they think about the ageing process!
Long term change on a mass scale is an exciting goal, and that is exactly what CHeBA and our group of positive agers are aiming to achieve: to revolutionise the future of ageing.
This article was first published in Montefiore LIFE December 2014.