Takeaway Tips on Brain Health

Dr. Demetrius “Jim” Maraganore

Brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease severely affect muscular and cognitive functions, and have a lasting impact on millions of Americans and their families. Demetrius “Jim” Maraganore, MD, neurologist and Director of NorthShore’s Center for Brain Health, recently answered patients’ questions via an online chat. Here is an adapted version of that conversation:

Q: Is there a vitamin that could protect me from getting Alzheimer’s/dementia when I grow older?
A: There is evidence that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor can check to see if you are vitamin D deficient and if you are, might consider prescribing vitamin D2 orally once a week, or suggest over-the-counter vitamin D3 at the correct strength for you. Vitamin B complex also may reduce the rate of brain shrinkage by as much as 50 percent a year, but again, is most effective at prescription strength.

Q: Are there specific mental activities older adults should do to prevent brain disorders?
A: Remain a lifelong learner. Consider learning a new language or take up music or learn to play an instrument. Puzzles, crosswords and computer games can be stimulating, but the key is always to learn. Challenge yourself.

Q: How do you know if you have a serious memory problem or just forgetfulness?
A: There are many reasons a person might be forgetful. The best thing to do is to see a neurologist who has expertise in brain health or memory disorders. There are simple office tests that can quickly determine if you have a memory disorder or not, and there are many assessments that can be performed to identify the underlying reasons. I encourage people to not be afraid to be checked out, because there is much we can offer.

Q: If you have trouble sleeping, is that problem associated with a higher risk for Alzheimer’s?
A: Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease. I recommend getting six to eight hours of good quality sleep a night. Sleep must be restorative. Our brain is washed of toxic proteins and waste while we sleep, so it’s important. If a patient isn’t able to sleep well, I refer them to NorthShore’s sleep center for evaluation and sleep management.

Q: If your family has a history of Alzheimer’s, what should a person do to find out their risk or prevent it?
A: Most everyone has a family history of Alzheimer’s somewhere in their family tree. But if you have a first-degree relative who is affected, your risk for Alzheimer’s is at least doubled. For example, women have a one-in-five lifetime risk for Alzheimer’s, so if you have a family history that risk could be up to 40 percent in a lifetime. Of greater concern is an early age onset. We can review family histories and test for mutations or risk variants in our Center for Brain Health. We provide lifestyle, behavioral and medical treatments to reduce the risk by greater than 60 percent. Now, we can delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.     

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