As part of Brain Awareness Week, the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI) co-hosted its annual Staying Sharp program with NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City on Tuesday afternoon. Before diving into a panel discussion on memory, aging, and brain health, professional trainer Linda Meyer took the stage to warm up the audience—literally. Meyer used a combination of physical exercise, fun tunes, and brain teasers to warm up our minds and focus our attention. She emphasized how small changes can impact our attention and ability to engage.
To get everyone on the same page, neurologist Martin Sadowski started the panel discussion with a New York-inspired explanation of Alzheimer’s disease. Imagine New York City after a few days of heavy snow: The sanitation department has been busy plowing, so an abundance of garbage litters the sidewalk. Fortunately, the snow eventually melts, and sanitation can get back to their normal routine. Now imagine the city got rid of the sanitation department, and let heaps of trash accumulate unfettered; in a few years it would be absolutely impossible to walk down the streets or sidewalks.
In Alzheimer’s disease, a similar accumulation of ‘junk’ occurs in the brain. At first, the affects aren’t noticeable or could be attributed to normal lapses in memory, Sadowski said. However, as the years go on and the ‘junk’ continues to grow, the effects become more and more pronounced. As Sadowski adroitly put it, “not remembering where you parked your car can happen to the best of us, but taking the bus home because you forgot you drove your car is a cause for concern.”
The audience raised many questions regarding lifestyle modifications and brain health during the Q&A session, and our panelists discussed recent breakthroughs in research, while sharing their own tips for staying sharp. For example, adhering to the Mediterranean diet (high in plant-based foods and healthy fats found in olive oil and fish; low in processed grains and red meat) has been found to reduce the risk of dementia and heart disease. All panelists stressed the importance of remaining physically, mentally, and socially active and encouraged us to continue learning new things. Engaging in activities combining both physical and mental skills, such as learning a dance or starting a garden, are also associated with better brain health.
Neurologist Sonja Blum also debunked some common myths surrounding the alleged ability of brain games to boost your mental capacity, increase memory and attention, or combat aging-related cognitive decline. When it comes to activities, she advised focusing on things we are naturally interested in, but cautioned against games purported to promote brain health, warning us not to “spend our money on anything specific.” [Read more about the brain games debate in our recent Cerebrum article.]
Anyone who missed out on this event can attend the next Staying Sharp this Saturday, March 21, at the New Gethsemane Baptist Church in Brooklyn. The event runs from 10 am to noon, and will focus on brain health, aging, and memory issues affecting the black community in particular. This event is free, but space is limited. Please call 1-877-926-8300 to reserve a spot!