December 3, 2020

How to keep your brain healthy

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Dr Lynn Dawber

The International Medical Group is a multi-disciplinary medical practice that offers professional and personalised care. Dr Lynn Dawber is a South African national who joined us from New Zealand where she has been practicing for a number of years. She is a welcome addition to our family and we look forward to our patients (new and existing) meeting her.

Lifestyle interventions to reduce cardiovascular risk such as regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, low to moderate alcohol intake and being a non-smoker also seem to protect against age-related cognitive decline. A healthy lifestyle, both mental and physical, is the best preventative defence.

Hypertension, stroke and small vessel disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and have all been associated with an increased risk of age-related cognitive decline.


An increased level of fitness is associated with improved memory and learning and a reduction in age-related cognitive decline.


Consumption of small quantities of alcohol (one standard unit of alcohol a day) on a regular basis is thought to stimulate the brain therefore counteracting cognitive decline.


A healthy, balanced diet rich in antioxidants (e.g. blueberries, strawberries, cocoa, tea) and omega-3 (e.g. oily fish) may help to slow age-related cognitive decline. It is preferable (and safer) to use naturally occurring sources of antioxidants and omega-3 oils than supplement forms.


Gingko biloba is a commonly used supplement for memory loss

Antioxidant supplements such as vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene show no significant improvement in longevity, in fact they may actually increase mortality.

Pharmacological treatments

Medication is often used to temporarily stop or slow cognitive and functional decline in people with Alzheimer-type dementia and dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Brain exercises

It is never too late to start exercising the brain. There is growing evidence that participating in activities such as reading, puzzles, computer activities and crafts reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline. Social interaction is beneficial too. In addition to exercising the brain, there are several strategies that can be adopted to help memory recall:

Place commonly lost items in the same spot every time

Write things down e.g. make a “to do” list

Say words out loud e.g. “I have turned off the iron”, repeat a person’s name after being introduced

Use memory aids e.g. notepad, diary, wristwatch alarm, voice recorder

Group items using mnemonics e.g. alphabetize a list, create an acronym, use rhymes or create a story to connect the information

Concentrate and relax when trying to remember

Sleep on it – research has shown that the brain continues to solve a problem while we sleep

Elderly people are encouraged to take up dancing! This combines physical activity, brain exercise (counting rhythms, learning steps etc) and social interaction. Some patients may prefer to join a walking or exercise group.


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