Pandemic Spotlights the Importance of Brain Health

Besides COVID-19’s widely known effects on lungs and breathing, a new report says the pandemic has taken a widespread toll on mental well-being, which affects brain health.

Think of all the ways the pandemic has changed people’s lives – heightened health risks, uncertainty, less social engagement, new routines and economic hardship. All of it together has triggered or amplified feelings of stress for many people. The toll has been especially high for those living with dementia and their caregivers.

The report was published by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), which is affiliated with the AARP. Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP’s senior vice president for policy and the executive director of the GCBH, noted that “While we know the risks for severe illness from COVID-19 increase with age, there is so much we still don’t know about the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection on our brains.”

Heart health = brain health

Now, here’s some good news: Science has proven that we can actually improve and protect our brain health at any age. In fact, heart health and brain health are connected. That means that many of the lifestyle choices doctors recommend for heart health can also improve our brain health.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease, stroke, and vascular dementia are preventable. Vascular dementia can happen as a result of a series of small, “silent” strokes, sometimes called “mini-strokes.” Dementia can cause memory loss, slowed thinking, and personality changes.

The CDC suggests these ways to protect your heart health – which can protect your brain as well:

  1. Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading cause of both heart disease and stroke. Dementia is more likely to affect people with high blood pressure.
  2. Eat healthy foods and limit alcohol. Limit foods with added sugars and saturated fats, and lower your sodium (salt) intake. Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and increase the risk of some kinds of heart disease.
  3. Get diabetes under control. Diabetes causes high blood sugar, which can damage blood vessels and nerves. This damage raises the risk for heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
  4. Don’t smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels and makes blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
  5. Stay active. Lack of physical activity can lead to high blood pressure and obesity.

It’s always a good idea to protect the health of both our hearts and our brains, but this pandemic gives us an extra nudge. Keeping both organs healthy can help preserve our mental well-being during such unpredictable times.