Brain Health

Your brain does an important job. What will you do for it today?

3 older adults looking up to brain characters

Brain health is about keeping your brain working at its best and reducing risks to it as you age. Research suggests the choices you make to keep your body healthy may be good for your brain as well. They also make it easier for the brain to cope with any changes that happen with aging and may reduce your risk for dementia later in life.

Take steps to keep your brain working at its best. It is never too early or too late to start being brain healthy.

Consider that in Canada:

  • 78,600 new cases of dementia are diagnosed per year in those 65+
  • 63% of those 65+ who are living with diagnosed dementia are women
  • approximately 9 older adults are diagnosed with dementia every hour
  • family or friends spend an average of 26 hours every week to help a person with dementia

What will you do for your brain today?

The Hello Brain logo which is a speechbubble with the words hello brain

Hello Brain has great scientific information about brain health. Check out their website. 

Care for Your Heart


What is good for the heart is good for your brain.

A cartoon brain and cartoon heart

A healthy heart and healthy blood vessels do a better job of bringing oxygen and nutrients to your brain. Health problems related to the heart and blood vessels will increase your risk for dementia.

You are at higher risk for heart disease and stroke if you smoke and drink large amounts of alcohol. Smoking is addictive and contributes to many health issues involving the lungs, heart and blood pressure. Too much alcohol over a long period of time (years) may damage the brain and increase your risk for dementia.

What you can do to care for your heart
  • Have regular medical check-ups.
  • Talk to your doctor about your health conditions.
  • Review your medication with your doctor or pharmacist. Ask about possible side effects on memory and thinking.
  • Know and track your health numbers. Include your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight, number of standard alcoholic drinks in a week, and number of cigarettes smoked every day.
  • Get help to quit smoking. This is key to your success. Contact My Quit at 1-877-376-1701 for support.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and how often. Follow the low risk drinking guidelines and tips.

Will you start caring more for your heart?

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Be Active


 

Being active is a good workout for your body and your brain.

A cartoon brain lifting weights

Moving during the day and doing planned exercise like an exercise class are both important. There are many benefits, and being active is one of the best things for your brain. Being active:

  • increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain
  • improves memory and learning
  • encourages new brain cells and the connections between them, and
  • may reduce your risk for dementia.

 

What you can do to be active

  • Move more, sit less during the day.
  • Everyone is different. Move the best you can.
  • For health benefits, add 30 minutes of planned exercise most days. Try walking, dancing, cycling, or do what you love. Do chair exercise if that works for you.
  • Add strength and balance exercise at least two times a week.
  • Talk to your doctor to see if there are activities you should avoid if you are new to exercise or if you are trying a new program.

Will you start being more active?

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Eat Healthy


Eating healthy is good for your heart and your brain.

A cartoon brain looking at a bowl of fruit

A variety of healthy food gives your brain nutrients and energy to do its work. And you need a healthy heart and blood vessels to bring those nutrients and energy to your brain. Eating healthy can help to prevent and manage diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, some cancers and obesity.

 



What you can do to eat healthy
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and protein foods.
  • Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.
  • Limit highly processed foods high in salt, sugar, or fat. Eat them less often and eat in small amounts.
  • Make water your drink of choice.
  • Learn more, and get tips and recipes by checking out the new Canada’s food guide.

Will you start eating healthy?

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Be Social


A cartoon brain looking at a speech bubbleBeing with others makes us feel good.

According to research, contact with others and spending time with the people you care about is good for your brain. It can help you think more clearly, and lowers the risk of age related changes and dementia.

 

 

 

What you can do to be more connected
  • Connect with others regularly.
  • Telephones or computers are a great choice when you cannot chat in person.
  • Call a friend. Chat with your neighbor. Plan an activity with family or friends.
  • Join a club, walking group or choir. Sign up for one of the many activities offered at many senior centres.
  • If you have challenges leaving your home, join Seniors’ Centre Without Walls from the comfort of your home. All you need is your telephone. You will be connected to health and wellness seminars, lectures, live musical entertainment, conversation and friendships.  
  • Become a volunteer for a group or organization.
Will you be more social?

 

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Challenge Your Brain


A cartoon brain looking at a computer screenThe brain gets bored and works best when given new challenges to learn.

New experiences help with memory, thinking, attention, and reasoning skills as you age. Research has found that challenging the brain with new activities helps to build new brain cells and connections in the brain.

People often think of computer brain games, Sudoku, or crosswords for activities to keep the mind sharp. However, there is not enough evidence to say you should do them for brain health or that they reduce your risk for dementia. If you enjoy these games, you do not have to stop but do other things as well.

There is ongoing research into more intensive brain training programs and some evidence is promising.

What you can do to challenge your brain
  • Challenge yourself often and keep learning new things.
  • Dance, learn a language, read, try an art class, learn to play a musical instrument.
  • Find out about a brain training program in Ottawa.
  • Volunteer or mentor.
  • Change your routines.
  • Try a new sport, hobby or something you haven’t done before.
  • Do more than one activity and mix it up with something new.
Will you challenge your brain?
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Protect Your Head


A cartoon brain wearing a helmetHead injuries can place your brain at risk.

A head injury can affect how well your brain works and may lead to a greater risk for dementia later. There is growing evidence of a link between repeated concussions and dementia. Falls are a major cause for head injuries in older adults and there are steps you can take to prevent them.

 

 

What you can do to protect your head
  • Know your risk for having a fall and make a plan to reduce your fall risk.
  • A plan to reduce your fall risk could include:
    • fall-proofing your home
    • exercise to maintain and improve strength & balance
    • hearing tests and eye tests
    • getting enough sleep
    • talking to your pharmacist about your prescription and over-the-counter medication
    • reporting any falls, slips, or trips to your doctor
  • Wear an approved helmet when taking part in sports like skating, skiing, cycling, skateboarding or tobogganing.
  • Drive safely and always wear a seatbelt.
Will you take steps to protect your head?
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Sleep Well


A cartoon brain sleepingThe brain works hard all day and needs time to recharge.

You cannot be at your best without sleep. It affects our mood, memory, and concentration. Sleep lets the brain:

  • clear itself of toxins
  • do some repairs
  • process the day’s events
  • set memories.

As we get older our sleep changes. It is less deep, and we can wake-up more often. But older adults still need a total of 7 to 8 hours a night (even if interrupted).

What you can do to improve your sleep
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. If you nap during the day it counts towards your total hours of sleep in 24 hours.
  • Have a regular sleep routine.
  • Wake up at the same time each day to help keep a regular sleep cycle.
  • Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Limit the use of screens (TV, tablets, phone) in the bedroom.
  • Try relaxation techniques.
  • Do regular physical activity.
  • Expose yourself to natural light during the day, especially early morning. This helps reset your internal body clock and your sleep cycle.
  • If you have  trouble sleeping, try other things before sleeping pills . A warm bath, glass of milk, or relaxation technique are options. And remember to use medication wisely.
  • Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you have trouble sleeping.
Will you take steps to improve your sleep?
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Care for Your Mental Health


A cartoon brain sitting down with its legs crossedMental health is an important part of our overall health.

Positive mental health is the core for a person's well-being. It allows a person to reach their potential and deal with the normal stresses of life. The science behind how mental health and brain health are connected is not well developed. Research suggests there is a link between better mental health and better brain health, but we don’t yet know if one causes the other.

What you can do for your mental health
  • Talk about your mental health. To learn more check out How to Talk about Your Mental Health.
  • Take care of your mental health, just like you would your physical health. Here are some ideas to get you started.
  • Build resilience. Being resilient is good for our mental health because it helps us recover and work through challenges in a positive way. Check out ways to build your resilience with this video.
  • Connecting with people we care about is an important way to protect and improve our mental health. Find out ways to improve your connections or make new ones.
  • If you are concerned about your mental health or someone else, speak to your health care provider or check out the Mental Health and Substance Use Resource List.
  • If you are in crisis, contact the Mental Health Crisis Line (24 hours a day/7 days a week) at 613-722-6914 or if outside Ottawa toll-free at 1-866-996-0991.
  • If you or someone else is experiencing thoughts of suicide or harming yourself, call 9-1-1.

As well, manage your health conditions, be active, eat healthy, continue to learn and enjoy hobbies, get enough sleep and spend time with family and friends.

Will you care for your mental health?
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Know Your Aging Brain


A cartoon brain with white hair and a white mustacheYour brain ages and changes like the rest of your body.

It is common for a healthy older adult to have some changes in their thinking. The changes are not the same for every older person and can change over time.

Life experience brings insight and knowledge, something we often call wisdom. And research shows, the brain can adapt to new things at any age. Older adults can:

  • continue to learn
  • make new memories
  • improve word skills

Other age related changes in thinking may include:

  • more difficulty finding words and remembering names
  • finding it harder to pay attention
  • problems with multi-tasking

Someone with age related changes in thinking can still manage their day-to-day activities and be independent. Notebook organizers, phone reminders, and checklists can be helpful when dealing with changes in memory.

When to see a doctor
Talk to your doctor about any changes in thinking and memory. As well as normal aging, many health issues and disease can cause changes in thinking and memory. Possibilities include:
  • certain medications
  • dehydration, poor nutrition
  • thyroid issues
  • depression
  • infections
  • dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease

It is normal to worry about the changes you notice.  Talk to your doctor and family, and do it early. You want:

  • the right diagnosis to help monitor, treat or manage your symptoms
  • information, programs, and support available to help if you need it
  • to plan for your future 

Dementia is not a normal part of aging. In time there will be serious memory and thinking problems. Daily activities like using the phone, paying for groceries, or finding your way home can become more and more difficult.

If you were worried about or saw changes in your thinking and memory, would you talk to your doctor?
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Resources


 

A cartoon brain reading

 

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