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Keeping Your Brain Young

| July 24, 2019
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We subscribe to a financial planning newsletter titled, "Inside Information." The creator of this monthly resource is Bob Veres, a man I have known for almost all of my thirty-three years in business. In fact, he wrote the piece that is linked below on yours truly in 1989, when I was just a young financial planner trying to figure how to build my business. Where did those three decades go? 

At a recent financial planning conference, Mr. Veres wrote, "My favorite keynote speaker was Dr. Marc Milstein, a brain research specialist and biochemist. His talk was on how to keep your brain young-which not only means avoiding dementia or Alzheimer's, but actually improving cognition and mental effectiveness." 

Dr. Milstein told the audience that "You are not a slave to your genetics. There are things you can do to lower your risk and keep your brain young." His suggestions include: 

  • Get a good night's sleep every night. "Anything you learned today, you learned in a moment. But tonight, while you sleep, your brain will find all the new connections you made today, run electrical stimulation over them. . .and will strengthen your memory." He said that waking up one, two, or three times during the night is perfectly normal and does not interfere with this process. Also, our 80 billion brain cells create a lot of "brain trash." During sleep our brain eliminates that trash. 
  • Become a lifetime learner. Along with sleep, learning something new can also eliminate brain trash. "It could be a sport, a language, a musical instrument; that feeling that you get when you're struggling and it seems hard, that is when the brain chemical norepinephrine breaks up that trash." He summarized, "It doesn't have to be a brain game or an app. It just has to be something you are not familiar with, a couple times a week, where you embrace that struggling feeling. That's what squirts norepinephrine inside your brain and breaks up some of that trash." 
  • Stay socially engaged. "People who engage with other people on a regular basis tend to have younger brains." 
  • Ask your doctor for a CRP test, which stands for C-Reactive Protein, which determines if there is inflammation in the blood. From there, you can treat it with a healthy diet. Avoid processed foods "with a long list of ingredients that are hard to pronounce." Those processed foods tend to kill beneficial gut bacteria, and then feed the bad bacteria that can cause inflammation in your gut. Untreated, this inflammation can cause damage to your brain. 
  • Allow a certain level of stress to occur. We hear so much advice about reducing stress, but Dr. Milstein writes, "Certain levels of stress can actually be good for the brain, as long as there is not too much of it, and it is not too often. We have studies that show that people who stay engaged and have stress in their lives keep their brains younger." Here's one of his observations that made my day: "People who get stressed out at a little bit of traffic, get stressed out waiting in line, their brains look younger." Isn't that great news? He led the audience to mindfully take a deep, relaxing breath in through the nose, and then breathe out through the mouth. "If you do this when you are feeling stressful, it will help control the aging of your brain." He also said that "Getting outside in the presence of nature-what he called 'green time'-has the same effect. Get into nature and watch your stress levels plummet." 
  • Treat depression through medication, lifestyle changes, or cognitive therapy. He said that people with inflamed thyroids-a condition that is very often unrecognized-may be highly susceptible to anxiety and depressions-and therefore are especially susceptible to Alzheimer's. 
  • Exercise 30 to 45 minutes each day. "Every time you walk, you release a growth factor in your brain called BDNF, a neurotrophic growth factor that actually is like fertilizer for your brain cells." Better still, he said, "try dancing-which combines exercise with learning new things and being social, a triple benefit for the price of one." 
  • Treat diabetes right away. People with untreated diabetes are at high risk for cognitive decline. Dr. Milstein said the good news is that when the diabetes is treated, peoples' risk for Alzheimer's actually drops below the average population. 

At the end of his talk, Mr. Veres reported that Dr. Milstein said that most of us suspect that we're losing our brain function because we forget peoples' names or have momentary lapses of confusion. We forget where the car is parked. Milstein said that we need to concentrate on something for seven seconds for it to get into our long-term memory. So, he suggested, "Concentrate on where you parked your car, noting the street and nearby addresses. To remember someone's name, mentally write their name on their forehead and you will have a much greater chance to remember it. If you take time and focus on things, you trick your brain into thinking this is important information." When I meet people for the first time, I say their names back to them and then try to spell them. If appropriate, I tell them of someone else I know with that name. I never thought about the seven second rule, but it sure makes sense. 

I found this piece to be quite rewarding for me. It's filled with insights and suggestions that should help all of us folks of a certain age elicit a sighs of relief. 

Please take note: 

I'm sure you can imagine how many clients we have had over the years who have suffered some sort of dementia. That is why we want you to be sure to tell our staff who we can contact on your behalf if we think that you might be suffering cognition problems. We are not trying to deprive you of your independence; we want to serve you by helping you and your family make wise decisions with your money. 

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