TOLEDO — Now that Ohio has lifted its COVID health orders, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests people focus on improving their cognitive health as an important part of their return to normal.

“The past year has been extremely challenging for most people,” said Pam Myers, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association Northwest Ohio Chapter. “Chronic stress, like that experienced during the pandemic, can impact memory, mood and anxiety. As residents begin to return to normal, we encourage them to make brain health a priority.”

Myers suggested that it’s never too early to think about keeping your brain healthy. “Because one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, people are searching for healthy ways to create the best chance to avoid the brain disease,” she said.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive, fatal brain disease that kills nerve cells and tissues in the brain, affecting an individual’s ability to remember, think, plan, speak, walk. In the United States, more than 6 million people have the disease. There are 220,000 Ohioans living with the disease.

Dr. Rebecca Edelmayer, senior firector of scientific engagement for the Alzheimer’s Association, said people should focus on the health of their brain just like any other part of their body. “Luckily, exercise is one of the things you can do to help protect yourself from cognitive decline, in addition to other healthy lifestyle interventions to reduce your risk of dementia,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Association — through its U.S. POINTER Study — is examining the role lifestyle interventions, including diet, may play in protecting cognitive function. Right now, many experts agree that people can improve their brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, preferably in combination, including:

• Regular exercise — Regular cardiovascular exercise helps increase blood flow to the body and brain, and there is strong evidence that regular physical activity is linked to better memory and thinking.

• A heart-healthy diet — Stick to a meal schedule full of fruits and vegetables to ensure a well-balanced diet. The Mediterranean and DASH diets are linked to better cognitive functioning and help reduce risk of heart disease as well.

• Proper sleep — Maintaining a regular, uninterrupted sleep pattern helps clear waste from the brain. Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each night and try to keep a routine bedtime.

• Staying socially and mentally active — Meaningful social engagement may support cognitive health, so stay connected with friends and family. Engage your mind by doing activities that stump you, like completing a jigsaw puzzle or playing strategy games. Or challenge yourself further by learning a new language or musical instrument.

Dr. Edelmayer said, the best plan is “Don’t focus on just one factor. Instead, try to create a healthy lifestyle that might actually, truly help prevent dementia.”

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