The brain is a complex and fascinating organ. It is responsible for emotions and feelings, senses, language and communication, movement and control, thinking and memory. The brain of a human is so powerful that only a few of us could come anywhere near to utilizing it as well as we could. The human brain is the source of main mental faculties such as imagination, memory, innovation and creativity. However, like the rest of the human body, human brain also ages with each passing year.
Anatomy and Physiology of Brain
The human brain is divided into four sections including the cerebrum, the cerebellum, the brainstem and the diencephalon. Each of these sections is responsible for some portion of the overall job of the brain.
The largest part of the human brain is the cerebrum. The cerebrum is responsible for speech, memory, emotional response, the senses and more. It is further divided into several sections referred to as lobes. These lobes are the frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital. Each lobe is responsible for a specific segment of the job of cerebrum.
The cerebellum lies behind and below the cerebrum and it is attached to the brainstem. Its functions are to control motor function, balance, and body’s ability to interpret information sent to the brain by the sensory organs such as eyes, ears etc.
The functions of the brain stem include maintaining blood pressure, respiration, some reflexes and the changes that occur in the body during the ‘fight of flight’ response. The brain stem is also further divided into several sections –the midbrain, the medulla oblongata and the pons.
The diencephalon lies above the brain stem inside the cerebrum. It functions include food intake control, sensory function and maintaining the body’s sleep cycle. It is also divided into sections-the thalamus, epithalamus and the hypothalamus.
Effect on ageing on the Brain
Once you enter your late twenties, the aging process of the brain starts and you start losing neurons-the cells that form the nervous system and the brain. There are changes to brain’s size, cognition and vasculature due to ageing. By your sixties, your brains literally start to shrink and changes occur at all levels from molecular level to morphology. Incidence of white matter lesions, stroke and dementia also increase with age along with level of impairment of memory and changes also occur in levels of hormones and neurotransmitters. Though these changes to the brain may sound somewhat scary, the process of aging is natural and it happens in every person.
What is Dementia?
Dementia refers to a group of symptoms that affect thinking, memory and social abilities so severely that it interferes with activities of daily living. Although dementia is characterized by memory loss, there are other causes of memory loss too. So if you are suffering only from memory loss that does not imply that you have dementia.
The most common cause of progressive dementia in the elderly is Alzheimer’s disease, but there are a number of other causes of dementia. According to the cause, some symptoms of dementia can be reversed.
Statistics of Dementia in the UK
According to current estimates, there are 850,000 persons with dementia in the UK in the year 2015. There are more than 40,000 persons with early-onset dementia (dementia occurs before the age of 65 years) in the UK. The number of persons with dementia in the UK is estimated to be increased to greater than 1 million by the year 2025 and to greater than 2 million by the year 2051.
Symptoms of Dementia
The most common symptoms and signs of dementia are the following:
- Loss of memory, which is generally noticed by someone else or partner
- Difficulty in finding words or communicating
- Difficulty problem solving or reasoning
- Difficulty in handling complex tasks
- Difficulty with organizing and planning
- Difficulty with motor functions and coordination
- Disorientation and confusion
- Changes in personality
- Inappropriate behaviour
Prognosis of Dementia
There are different stages as the dementia progress. Depending on the stage it could be Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), mild dementia, moderate dementia, and severe dementia. Patients suffering from dementia progress through these different stages at different speeds and with different symptoms. You should talk to your doctor if you suspect that you are suffering from early symptoms of dementia. While there is no cure available for Alzheimer’s and other common forms of dementias, still diagnosing them early can help patients and their families plan better for the future.
Dietary changes for Dementia
According to studies a diet rich in vegetables especially cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and green leafy vegetables is associated with a decreased rate of decline in cognition. One study demonstrated that individuals who ate a Mediterranean diet had a 28% reduced risk of developing Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and a 48% reduced risk of MCI progressing to Alzheimer’s disease. A Mediterranean diet consists of legumes, vegetables, cereals, fruits, and fish, mild to moderate quantities of alcohol, olive oil, and low amounts of dairy products, saturated fats, poultry and meat.
Supplements for reducing the risk of Dementia
Omega oils: Omega oils are either monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). The 3 omegas-Omega 3, Omega 6 and Omega 9 are essential fatty acids as we cannot produce them in our body so they must be consumed in diet for optimum health. They prevent dementia by reducing the beta-amyloid plaques.
B Vitamins: There are various types of B vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B12, B9 etc. All of these help in promotion of normal energy metabolism and nervous system function leading to overall improvement of psychological and nervous system function.
Citicoline: Citicoline is the name for cytidine 5’-diphosphocholine (CDP-choline) when this is utilized as an exogenous sodium salt. As a drug citicoline has been proposed for use in vascular dementia and brain aging, where it functions as a stabilizer of cell membranes and decreases the presence of free radicals.
Ginkgo Biloba: The Ginkgo Biloba plant is thought to be one of the oldest plants of the earth. The active compounds present in the seeds are Bilobalides and Ginkgolides, which are helpful in the maintenance of mental well being and memory function, while protecting the individual from cognitive decline associated with aging.
Folic Acid: Folic acid is the synthetic monoglutamate form of Folate, which is the polyglutamate form. Since the body is unable to produce or store large quantities of folic acid, hence, it is recommended to be taken as a supplement. It helps in the promotion of health of the nervous system and blood.
Vitamin E: A fat soluble vitamin, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body. It helps in the prevention of free radical damage and is extremely useful in slowing aging naturally.
Zinc: Zinc is a trace element, which is present in almost all cells of the body and is a vital co-factor of many enzymes. It is essential for the healthy functioning of the human body including the brain. Low levels of zinc in the elderly suffering from Alzheimer’s can make the dementia worse.
Human brain is a complex organ and its functioning declines with aging. Dementia is a group of disorders that is characterized by memory loss, changes in thinking ability and socializing to such an extent that it affects daily activities. Dementia progresses at a different speed in everyone. Diet plays a significant role in the maintenance of optimum nervous system health. There are various supplements available that you can take for a healthy nervous system and delay aging of brain.
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