by Dr. Smita Patel
At a recent brain health event with the NorthShore Center for Brain Health and AARP of Illinois, a participant asked:
I had a concussion as a high school football player. Are there any recommendations to combat the long-term effects of concussion?
Brain injuries, like concussions, have been shown to increase risk for various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
It’s good to keep in mind that not all people who have had brain injury will develop dementia. Even better news is that adopting brain-healthy lifestyle behaviors today can keep your brain as healthy as possible. This goes for everyone, but especially if you carry risk factors, like prior concussion or traumatic brain injury.
Physical activity causes the production of “growth factors” (proteins that help new neurons and synapses develop and protect existing ones from dying). People who aerobically exercise regularly demonstrate larger hippocampi (the “memory center” of the brain), improved communication between different areas of the brain and improved cognition and memory. You can grow your brain by being fit and active!
Often, dementia is in part caused by inflammation in the brain. What you eat has an effect on inflammation. Many unhealthy foods cause inflammation, but eating a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in anti oxidant and non-inflammatory foods (like olive oil, fruits, vegetables and fish) can protect your brain from inflammation.
When we sleep, our brains are cleared of the metabolic waste that accumulates during the day. This waste includes the proteins that accumulate in many types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and CTE. By achieving 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep you ensure that the brain has ample time to do its housekeeping. Sleep specialists can help those with difficulty sleeping achieve healthy sleep.
And finally, maintaining an active brain and doing challenging activities (like learning to play an instrument or learning a new language) will increase the complexity of your brain. The more complex our brains, the more able they are to function despite the presence of injury or deterioration. Aim to continually add complexity to your brain.
Doing all of these in tandem gives us all a strong fighting chance against dementia no matter our risk factors, even concussion.
Dr. Smita Patel, DO, is a neurologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem, and an integral part of NorthShore’s Center for Brain Health. Dr. Patel brings expertise in neurology and sleep along with a proficiency in complementary and integrative medicine to develop tailored health plans for her clients. She is board certified in Neurology and Sleep Medicine. Dr. Patel has participated in clinical research studies in the area of sleep medicine and has written book chapters for several academic publications on neurological disorders. She has a strong interest in researching the cause and treatment of neurological diseases as well as supporting and participating in educational programs. Dr. Patel is part of the integrated team at the Center for Brain Health at NorthShore Neurological Institute, working with patients to reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders, and to improve brain health. For more information, please visit NorthShore