The Dana Alliance’s Successful Aging & Your Brain program attracted more than 700 seniors at the Up With Aging brain health expo, organized in partnership with the Manhattan Borough President, Gale A. Brewer. The event was held at The City University of New York (CUNY) graduate center to celebrate the final day of Brain Awareness Week 2016 and learn how to improve brain health.
Trainer Linda Meyer, Ed.D., CPT, started the program by getting the audience up and moving with a short exercise routine, including dance moves and brain teasers. Next, Dan Gasby, husband of 66-year-old model and celebrity restaurateur Barbara Smith (B. Smith), personalized the importance of brain health by speaking about his wife’s early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. “Many people decide to run away from what’s going on, we decided we’re going to run right at it; we’re going to fight it,” he said.
The 90-minute panel, moderated by Brewer, included three expert neuroscientists talking about ways to maintain brain health as people age: Dana Alliance member Wendy A. Suzuki, Ph.D., New York University; Matthew E. Fink, M.D., Weill Cornell Medicine; and Scott A. Small, M.D., Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain.
Suzuki, who emphasized the importance of exercise, discussed a study on two populations of rats to reinforce her point. One population lived in an enriched cage, with toys and extra space, which Suzuki called “Disney World,” and the other lived in an unenriched basic cage. She said rats in Disney had larger hippocampi, and the biggest factor for this growth was an increase in “physical aerobic exercise.” Her advice to the audience: “This is something you can do today. You don’t need a gym membership. You don’t need to buy new shoes. Get up and get your heart working more than you are now.”
Keeping a healthy diet for the aging brain was also emphasized by the panel. Fink used the succinct advice from food writer Michael Pollan to sum up his opinion on diet: “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much.” He warned against eating processed foods, saying most of the products in supermarkets are over-processed “food-like substances.” Small agreed, mentioning the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, fish, beans, and vegetables.
The panelists also stressed the need for social interaction; maintaining healthy sleep patterns and avoiding sleep aids; and lowering vascular risks by monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking, screening for heart disease, and increasing physical exercise.
At the end of the program, Fink reminded the audience that, from age 30 onward, gradual memory loss is normal, even in healthy people. Small added to this idea, saying:
Forgetfulness is normal. We tend to use the robot or the computer as our ideal model. I don’t know if any of you have seen movies, or read books, or just imagined what a curse it would be to have no forgetfulness. It’s natural; it’s inborn. I am not advocating not taking all these measures to prevent the decline of memory, but I do sense there’s a societal obsession with memory… Think what a forgetful pill, not a memory pill, would be for soldiers coming back with post traumatic stress disorder. The more comic version of that: think of how a marital therapist would benefit from giving a forgetful pill to patients. Forgetting is not necessarily bad, it’s inborn. When it changes, or it’s a disease, we should target it, but we should not try to be our laptop computers.
Missed the event? Watch the Successful Aging & Your Brain program on our YouTube channel:
– Ali Chunovic