“Small steps can make a difference”
The case for looking after our brains, this most precious of resources, is clear.
In July 2020, we published the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, showing that 4 in 10 of all dementia cases could potentially be prevented or delayed through changes to our lifestyle, health and environment.
And there’s no shortage of new studies adding to our understanding of the things we can do to keep our brains healthy and prevent dementia cases.
Just last month, scientists in the US published findings showing that the more physical activity people do in midlife the better their brain health in later life, while a team from Ireland showed treating high blood pressure is associated with a lower risk of dementia. In my own work, we’ve found that implementing effective interventions, including treating high blood pressure and helping people to stop smoking, don’t just lead to improvements in brain health and people’s quality of life but could also save more than £1 billion annually.
While there are no quick wins, and our personal dementia risk is complex mix of factors we can and can’t change, the research shows that taking small steps to protect our brain health can make a difference. We have found that implementing
But even some of the simplest recommendations for how to keep our brains healthy have become a lot harder during lockdown.
Keeping active and connected
As well as keeping fit and active, there is good evidence that staying socially connected and mentally active are two essential aspects of good brain health.
We’re all feeling the toll of separation from the people we love and the busy and diverse lives we used to lead after almost a year of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it’s not a surprise that 1 in 10 of us think our brain health has declined since the start of the pandemic.
But I was encouraged to see that two-thirds of us in the UK have been prompted to think about making changes to improve our health.
And the good news is, there are small things we can do – even in lockdown. Whether that’s a virtual catch-up with friends, taking up a new hobby at home or adding another loop to your daily walk.
The research does not point to one single thing you can do that has the most benefit, so my advice would be to find several things you enjoy and try to stick to it!
Hope on the horizon
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busy helping with the national COVID-19 vaccination programme. My conversations with those walking through the door and rolling up their sleeves have been ones of cautious hope.
People are looking forward to seeing each other again, re-connecting with friends and family, and enjoying the hobbies and activities they may have taken for granted before. They are asking for photos to send to their parents whom they’ve not seen for a year or just to show their friends.
There has never been such a focus on the health of our nation. This is a real opportunity to put our brains at the centre of how we think about our approach to good health.
I would encourage every one of us to think positively about how our life post-lockdown can take care of, reward and engage our brains.
As we tentatively adapt to a new, more open society once again can we set ourselves a challenge – ‘what one thing can I do each day to improve the health of my brain?’
And I join Alzheimer’s Research UK’s call on government to do the same. This past year has shown clearer than ever before, that the health of our nation is essential to the keep the country moving forward. A national brain health strategy to enable everyone to keep brain healthy throughout life is an important investment in all of our futures.
About the author
Professor Gill Livingston
Gill is Professor of Psychiatry of Older People at University College London.
Last year Gill Livingston, professor of psychiatry of older people at UCL, led researchers from around the world on a landmark report on dementia prevention. In this post, Gill discusses her hopes for the nation’s brain health beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.