Two Support Systems That Keep Your Brain FitYour personality traits may be contributing to your leve
Your personality traits may be contributing to your level of risk for developing cognitive dementia. How well you handle stress and how frequently you interact with circles of friends may be clues to your future, new research tells why.
We all freak out occasionally, but we’re talking about stress so consuming that you become temporarily unable to deal with life. Some people experience this kind of stress on an almost daily basis, while others rarely let life push them out of control. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
Related to this personality trait, researchers in Sweden followed 506 older people (average age of 83) for several years and looked for things that predicted who would develop dementia over the course of the study. They honed in on a couple of things that were important when considered together. First, was their level of social activity and second, their level of neuroticism, which in this case can be thought of as coping skills to reduce stress.
The new study found that those folks who were less socially active and had poor coping skills had twice the risk of developing dementia. In this small cohort, either social isolation or poor coping skills was not enough to increase risk, but the double whammy was significant. However, prior larger studies have found negative effects of each of these independently.
Previous research has shown that social isolation puts folks at higher risk for dementia and that poor coping skills increase risk for depression. Importantly, depression and dementia seem to frequently go hand in hand in older individuals. So regardless of which is worse or how social activity and coping skills combine, it’s likely that having social support and good coping skills is good for your brain in multiple ways.
The cool thing about these is that you can do something about them. Researchers call these types of factors ‘modifiable’ risk factors, meaning you have control over them. You can increase your level of social activity and improve your coping skills through a variety of techniques. If you feel isolated, unless you live in the middle of nowhere with no transportation, you can increase your level of social activity just by getting involved with your community. Over time you will make more friends and increase your social circles. As for coping skills, there are hundreds of books, classes and websites that can help you learn to handle stress more effectively.
The four cornerstones of brain fitness that we discuss in detail in our book, BrainFit for Life, will also help you develop coping skills. Specific nutrients, physical and mental activities and getting optimal sleep all control brain circuits that regulate stress and your ability to deal with it. The more you focus on these fundamentals, the more you will be surprised by the power that they have over your daily experiences and the more you will get out of life with a fit brain.
Neurology (2009) 72, 253-259.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Simon Evans is a brain scientist at the University of Michigan interested in lifestyle approaches to brain health and fitness. He is the author of BrainFit for Life: A User's Guide to Life-Long Brain Health and Fitness. Visit his website at http://www.brainfitforlife.com