A guide to keeping your brain healthy as you age

Our brains are fascinating organs and central to life. The brain controls not only your thoughts, emotions and memories but also your touch, vision, breathing and so much more. Interestingly, more than half of our brain is made of fat, with blood vessels and nerves being vital to its function. Our brains may be affected by age, illness and injury, but there are ways that we can take care of them.

How to take care of your brain

Our brains are complex organs, so they can be affected by a lot more than we realise. Dementia Australia suggests looking at these areas to care for your brain and reduce your dementia risk:

Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

When it comes to drinking alcohol, stay within the Australian government’s guidelines.  There is no safe level for smoking so reach out to Quitline on 13 78 48 if you need help. Dementia Australia’s booklet Think Ahead has more information on how alcohol and drugs affect your brain. It’s important to know that it is never too late to make healthy changes and support is available.

Protect your head

Head injuries may be harmful to your brain and increase your risk of developing dementia. Protect your head by:

  • Wearing a helmet when on a bicycle, skiing or playing contact sports
  • Always wear a seatbelt and drive safely
  • Make sure you are steady on your feet (use a walker or cane if needed), have good lighting and that your floor is free from tripping and slipping hazards

Keep your heart healthy

Heart and blood vessel conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease may affect the brain and increase the risk of developing dementia. Make sure to:

  • Get regular check ups
  • Keep a healthy weight or get help to manage your weight
  • Exercise for 30 minutes, at least 5 days per week
  • Limit alcohol and don’t smoke

Exercise your brain

Your brain isn’t a muscle, but it does need to be exercised. Our brains are constantly changing, so we have the chance to build new brain cells through mental exercise. It is important to make sure you keep exercising your brain with new activities rather than always doing the same things (such as doing only one type of brain puzzle). Mix it up and keep it interesting with:

  • Crosswords, puzzles and games
  • Reading
  • Creative activities like cooking, painting, sewing, woodwork, dancing, playing an instrument
  • Learning a new skill or language

Protect your hearing and vision

People with hearing loss (particularly if severe), and possibly vision loss, are at a higher risk of developing dementia.

What you can do:

  • Avoid loud noise and/or use hearing protection
  • Quit smoking
  • Have a hearing test – early diagnosis and help can reduce your risk of dementia
  • Wear your glasses or contact lenses to reduce eye and brain strain

Enjoy an active social life

Spending time with other people helps us to feel connected. Loneliness and depression can lead to a decline in brain health.

Find ways to stay socially active that suit you including making time to:

  • call or meet up with friends or family
  • join a group or club, or volunteer for a charity
  • chat with people you meet throughout the day

Eating well

Eating a healthy, balanced diet improves your overall health and may reduce your risk of conditions that affect the brain (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease). What should be in a brain healthy diet:

Learn to read food labels to understand the fat, salt and sugar count and make healthier choices.

Get a good sleep

Good sleep helps to promote a healthy brain. Sleep apnoea and poor sleep when untreated, may increase your risk of developing dementia.  Here are some tips for improving sleep:

  • Set your body clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day
  • Relax before bed: dim the lights, put away your phone and turn off the TV
  • Make sure your bedroom supports your sleep by being dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature
  • Keep naps to 30 minutes in the early afternoon
  • Move your body each day by exercising, but not too close to bedtime

If you do not sleep well or feel unrefreshed on waking you should speak to your medical practitioner.

Keep up the exercise

When people are physically active throughout their lives, especially after they turn 65 years old, they are at lower risk of dementia. Exercise does many good things for our bodies, but it is also excellent for our brains. Add in these three types of exercise, and start small and within your limits:

  • Aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, dancing, cycling or swimming
  • Weight training such as with an elastic resistance band, your body weight or lifting weights
  • Flexibility and balance exercise such as stretching, tai chi, qigong, yoga and Pilates

See your doctor before starting an exercise program if you have a health condition or haven’t exercised for a while.

Read Dementia Australia’s full recommendations on reducing your risk of dementia.

Learn more about looking after your brain and preventing dementia

BrainTrack app

Dementia Australia has launched the free app, BrainTrack. This app uses a series of travel related games to give you data on your cognition and changes over time. For many people it will offer reassurance with tips around maintaining brain health.

Preventing Dementia course

Enrol in this free Preventing Dementia course through The University of Tasmania’s Wicking Dementia Centre. This course is self-paced and covers:

  • Can dementia be prevented?
  • Dementia risk – it’s not all in your head
  • A healthy and active mind
  • Interventions for prevention

This information is general in nature and individualised medical advice should be sought from a general practitioner (GP) or appropriate medical practitioner.

Salveo Healthcare provides these blog resources to enhance the health and wellbeing of Tasmanians at home.