5 Ways You Can Help Your Client’s Brain Age (Successfully!)
Aging is a natural physiological part of life that starts the moment that we are born! As we age, our cognitive functioning naturally declines. However, cognitive decline can occur due to preventable causes. While this may be scary, there is some good news. The good news is that our brains are highly plastic, meaning that we can take steps to prevent and reverse some of the causes of cognitive decline with healthy lifestyle habits and changes. In this blog post, we discuss 5 ways how you can help your client’s brain age successfully and prevent cognitive decline.
1. Help your client identify and love omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods
Science has shown, the foods that we put into our bodies have a high impact on how we think and feel (Gomez-Pinilla, 2008). As food is digested, nutrients are extracted and passed along the bloodstream to all of our organs, including our brain. Nutritionists have given high emphasis on choosing foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts, and avocados.Omega-3 fatty acids are a large component of cell membranes within the brain that can increase BDNF levels within the brain (Wu, Ying, & Gomez-Pinilla, 2008). Because BDNF is responsible for cell growth and survival, encouraging BDNF production within the brain is key for healthy nerve growth and function. We suggest finding your client’s favorite foods rich in omega-3-fatty acids and trying some recipes that incorporate them. Do your clients need some inspiration? Here are some brain healthy recipes from a neuro-nutritionist you can share with them (and save for yourself!).
2. Encourage your Client to Exercise (regularly)
Aerobic exercise has been heavily studied for its impact on brain health. Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise helps maintain not only physical health, but also brain health and plasticity throughout the lifespan (Woelcker-Rehage, Godde, & Standinger, 2010). How? Animal studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can increase neural generation within the hippocampus – the brain’s memory center, as well as encourage synaptic connections between neurons and the growth of new blood vessels within the brain (Prolla & Mattson, 2001; Cotman, Berchtold, & Christie, 2007; VanPraag, Shubert, Zhao, & Gage, 2005). Some ways you can encourage your clients to get regular aerobic exercise include walking, running, biking, and swimming. Always make sure that your clients check with their primary doctor about which exercise options are safe for them.
3. Help Your Client Manage Stress
We all experience stress in our everyday lives. However, chronic stress, or stress that occurs after prolonged emotional and psychological distress has highly detrimental effects to our bodies, brains, and even our genes. Chronic stress has shown to increase glucocorticoid levels, which can negatively impact neural cell energy and cognitive functioning (Saploski, Krey, & McEwen, 1986). These glucocorticoids can also impact our limbic system, causing us to experience depression, poor decision making, and memory deficits (McEwen, Weiss, & Schwartz, 1968). In Alzheimer’s patients, the experience of chronic stress can also speed up cognitive decline, making it evermore so necessary to help elderly people keep stress at bay (Dias-Ferreira et. al, 2009). How can you help your client that is battling chronic stress? Encourage them to communicate with you and be honest, work with them on creating strategies to manage their stress, and help them learn to conquer difficult times.
4. Enrich Your Client’s Environment
What is an enriched environment? For children, an enriched environment has accessible toys, books, music, sports equipment, and most importantly – ample parent and peer interaction. Many elderly people face social isolation and are not in environments where they are being cognitively stimulated. The lack of environment richness can lead to increased experience of stress, reduction in brain weight and size, and decreased learning and memory skills (Mora et. al, 2007; vanPraag et. al, 2000; Segovia et. al, 2008 & 2009; Leggio, Mandolesi, & Federico, 2005). How can you enrich your client’s environment? You can send your client good cognitive worksheets, engage them in Lego therapy, provide group therapy to help your client learn to engage with others, work on social skills, and help your client develop strategies that they can use to connect with others and make friends.
5. Provide NEAR therapy for your client
Like playing a sport or performing an instrument, cognitive skills require practice too. In ideal enriched environments, there are ample opportunities to access cognitively stimulating activities that require the use of one or more cognitive skills. However, the reality is that many aging adults are not in these ideal enriched environments and experience cognitive decline due to the normal process of aging and/or other medical conditions. As a clinical provider, you can help your client build and sharpen cognitive skills using NEAR therapy. NEAR therapy combines cognitive practice using digital tools and worksheets with bridging group therapy. What’s the fuss about NEAR? It helps your client build, practice, and use important cognitive skills while connecting them to everyday life. You can provide NEAR therapy for your clients, and we can get you started on how to do so.
Working with aging clients involves not only helping them maintain their cognitive functioning but also helping them live well and maintain their health. Research shows that brain health is related to our physical and psychological well-being. Successful aging involves addressing your client’s cognitive, physical, psychological, and social health needs. You can help your client age successfully by encouraging them to make wise food choices, exercise regularly, address their environments, and adapt a cognitive therapy program. By doing these 5 things, you can help your clients age successfully by helping them maintain their brain and cognitive health.