Over the last 25 years, researchers at the Orr Center in West Des Moines, IA, have learned an enormous amount about aging successfully. This wisdom is summarized in the Orr Center's 10 Pillars of Brain Wellness presented here.
1. SOCIALIZE: The human brain needs to be with other humans. Volunteer, join a club, take a class, and put yourself in situations that require playing well with others.
2. EXERCISE: A number of studies have shown that moderate physical activity protects against cognitive decline. Even better if you combine physical activity with mental stimulation (think yoga, karate, or ballroom dancing).
3. REST: Yes, the brain needs active stimulation to stay in top shape, but it also needs rest and relaxation. Try to make at least one day a week largely stress-free.
4. MANAGE STRESS: Stress is a major contributor in the onset of many chronic diseases, and it can have a devastating impact on the brain. “We know that chronic painful stress can lead to shrinkage of the memory centers of the brain,” says Bob Bender, M.D., medical director of the Orr Center.
5. PRACTICE MODERATION: Especially alcohol and calories. (As for tobacco—abstain). And make sure the calories you do eat are nutrient dense. The more antioxidants in your diet, the better equipped you'll be to stave off disease.
6. SHARE YOUR GIFTS: Engaging in activities that you're good at boosts confidence and self-esteem. If these activities help others, well, that's just a bonus.
7. AVOID ACCIDENTS: Protect your head at all times by wearing seatbelts and bicycle helmets.
8. ESTABLISH A HEALTH CARE TEAM: When illness sets in, make sure you have a good medical team at the ready to get you back on your feet.
9. PRACTICE BRAIN WELLNESS: Read, write, do crossword puzzles, take a class, and learn new things—anything to help build reserves of brain cells.
10. GET SPIRITUAL: Meditation is just one of many ways people can achieve this goal. “Meditation changes the brain for the better,” says Dr. Bender. “We're only beginning to learn the many ways it does it.”
For a full listing of patient organizations, go to neurologynow.com
American Academy of Neurology Web site aan.com/patients
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke ninds.nih.gov
Well Spouse Association wellspouse.org 1-800-838-0879
Alzheimer's Association alz.org 1-800-272-3900
Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center alzheimers.org 1-800-438-4380
Alzheimer's Foundation of America alzfdn.org 1-866-232-8484
Association for Frontotemporal Dementias FTD-Picks.org 1-866-507-7222
Autism Society of America autism-society.org 1-800-3AUTISM (1-800-328-8476)
Autism Speaks, Inc. autismspeaks.org 212-252-8584
Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership grasp.org 1-888-474-7277
American Brain Tumor Association abta.org 1-800-886-2282
National Brain Tumor Society Braintumor.org 1-800-934-2873
United Cerebral Palsy ucp.org 1-800-872-5827
Benign Essential BlepharospasmResearch Foundation blepharospasm.org 409-832-0788
Dystonia Foundation dystonia-foundation.org 1-800-377-DYST (1-800-377-3978)
National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association dysphonia.org 1-800-795-6732
Spasmodic Torticollis spasmodictorticollis.org 1-888-445-4588
Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) CUREepilepsy.org 312-255-1801
Epilepsy Foundation epilepsyfoundation.org 1-800-332-1000
Hereditary Disease Foundation hdfoundation.org 212-928-2121
Huntington's Disease Society of America hdsa.org 1-800-345-HDSA (1-800-345-4372)
Hydrocephalus Association hydroassoc.org 1-888-598-3789
National Hydrocephalus Foundation nhfonline.org 1-888-857-3434
MSFriends msfriends.org 1-877-MSFRIENDS
Multiple Sclerosis Association of America msassociation.org , 1-800-532-7667
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation msfocus.org 1-800-225-6495
National Multiple Sclerosis Society nationalmssociety.org 1-800-FIGHT-MS (1-800-344-4867)
Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America myasthenia.org 1-800-541-5454
ALS Association alsa.org 1-800-782-4747
Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association charcot-marie-tooth.org 610-499-92641-800-606-CMTA (2682)
Kennedy's Disease Association kennedysdisease.org 559-658-5950
Moebius Syndrome Foundation moebiussyndrome.com 1-660-834-3406
Muscular Dystrophy Association mda.org 1-800-FIGHT-MD (1-800-344-4863)
Neuropathy Association neuropathy.org 212-692-0662
Spastic Paraplegia Foundation, Inc. sp-foundation.org 1-877-773-4483
American Parkinson Disease Association apdaparkinson.org 1-800-223-2732
International Essential Tremor Foundation essentialtremor.org 1-888-387-3667
Lewy Body Dementia Association lbda.org 404-935-6444
Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research michaeljfox.org 1-800-708-7644
National Ataxia Foundation ataxia.org 763-553-0020
National Parkinson Foundation parkinson.org 1-800-327-4545
Parkinson's Disease Foundation pdf.org 1-800-457-6676
Foundation for PSP, CBD and Related Brain Diseases curepsp.org 1-800-457-4777
National Sleep Foundation sleepfoundation.org 202-347-3471
American Stroke Association: A Division of American Heart Association strokeassociation.org 1-888-4STROKE (478-7653)
National Stroke Association stroke.org 1-800-STROKES (787-6537)
Tourette Syndrome Association tsa-usa.org 718-224-2999
Brain Injury Association of America biausa.org 1-800-444-6443