In recent years, a lot of information has come out about ways to slow cognitive decline and dementia, and it can all get a little confusing.
And although there is no known cure or failsafe prevention method for avoiding cognitive decline or dementia, researchers have identified a series of lifestyle factors that appear to be associated with risk.
The SHIELD plan incorporates a number of lifestyle interventions that have been found to help reduce the risk of dementia and strengthen cognitive function in aging. And perhaps most importantly, it gives you an acronym that is easy to remember.
SHELD stands for:
Sleep: Getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night can help improve brain health. It gives your body enough time to send through a cleanup crew that can remove plaques from your brain.
Handling stress: Stress can also beat away at your brain’s capacity to function optimally. Finding ways to deal with stress, including exercise, managing expectations, or meditation, can all help.
Interacting with friends: Loneliness is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s and dementia. Spending time talking to friends, family, and other acquaintances can help. Joining community groups, hiking groups, or volunteering can all help.
Exercise: Exercise may help strengthen brain regions affected by Alzheimer’s and trigger the breakdown of amyloid plaques that can contribute to Alzheimer’s. Find an exercise modality that you enjoy and try to do it for at least 150 minutes per week.
Learn New Things: Learning new things can strengthen and increase the number of synapses in your brain, which are the connections between nerve cells storing your memories. Synapse loss is correlated with dementia, so making more gives you more to spare.
Diet: Eating a Mediterranean-style diet, which minimizes processed food and red meat and is rich in fiber from fruits and vegetables, is also associated with a healthier brain. It is also good for your gut, which could influence inflammation and nerve cell health in the brain.
Adopting the SHIELD plan is an easy way to remember the steps to a healthy brain that could lead to better brain health and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.