Archive for Exercise

How High Blood Pressure Affects Brain Health

On our Cognitive Therapeutics Method blog, we have often noted the link between heart and brain health, highlighting the importance of exercise in promoting blood flow and keeping aging brains healthier for longer. On October 10th, 2016, the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement emphasizing that high blood pressure is a major risk factor for cognitive impairment, once again solidifying the link between heart health and cognitive functioning, including the risk for developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

The statement was issued after reviewing multiple studies on the association between blood pressure and the risk for cognitive impairment, concluding that high blood pressure, especially in middle age, is linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Although the warning is founded upon multiple studies, the American Heart Association does acknowledge that it is not clear yet as to whether reducing and controlling high blood pressure will decrease an individual’s likelihood of developing dementia. It will benefit the heart in reducing the risk of heart attacks, stroke and other heart diseases, but further studies are needed on the exact cause and effect of high blood pressure on the brain to determine its role in Alzheimer’s and dementia.

High blood pressure is not the sole cause of dementia – diet, drinking and smoking habits, race, gender and countless other factors have been said to play a role in the incidence of dementia.

For the time-being, it is important to live a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ focuses on a healthy diet, physical activity and mentally-engaging activities to promote long-term brain health. To learn more about the Method, visit


Laughing Your Way to Better Health

According to a recent study by Georgia State University, simulated laughter during work outs could improve mental health, physical endurance and motivation to exercise. Published in the journal The Gerontologist, this study supports the notion of mind over matter – even feigning happiness can have physical and emotional benefits.

Older adults from four different assisted living facilities participated in the study for six weeks. Participants attended two sessions per week for 45 minutes each; each session included strength, balance and flexibility exercises as well as laughter exercises. After every two to four physical exercises, the group practiced between eight and ten laughter exercises for 30 to 60 seconds each. Laughter is thought to strengthen and relax muscles, which is why it was done consistently throughout the work out session.

Results of the study found that participants had improvements in mental health and aerobic endurance, and perceived better outcomes of their exercise routine. The enhancement in quality of life further encouraged participants to maintain a healthy regimen of physical activity.

The brain and body cannot differentiate between simulated and genuine laughter, which is why both forms can generate health benefits. Oftentimes, however, simulated laughter in these classes becomes genuine! Simulated laughter is also recommended for older adults experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline or dementia, as there is no need for the person to understand a joke – the classes simply take the person through the bodily motion of laughing, which is enough to benefit long-term brain health and improve mood.

This study is one of the first of its kind to analyze the effects of laughter in a structured exercise program, as well as the first of its kind to look at the benefits of laughter in older adults. Adults with bigger social networks often enjoy greater mental health benefits, so we are interested to learn more about socialization, laughter and happiness from future studies!


10 Facts You Need to Know to Promote and Harness Neuroplasticity

Due to the limitations of pharmacological approaches to dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, scientists are relying more on non-pharmacological treatment plans, such as cognitive therapy, as a way to help delay the onset and slow the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline. Non-pharmacological interventions are based on the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize connections in the brain, create new connections and even create new neurons under some circumstances. Generally, neuroplasticity occurs in two instances: as a result of learning and experience or a result of damage to the brain.

The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is based heavily on the concept of neuroplasticity and takes advantage of the brain’s ability to create new connections by engaging 5 cognitive domains with activities. Below, we have compiled 10 important facts that you need to know in order to promote neuroplasticity in your day-to-day life for better brain health!

  1. Neuroplasticity is real, and it is more important than our genes. Neuroplasticity is a lifelong process and has far greater effects on our brain’s outcome than genes do.
  2. All physical exercise promotes brain function, but cardio is king. Exercising increases blood flow, brain volume and growth hormone levels, especially if it really gets the heart pumping. We recommend 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day, four days a week.
  3. Mental stimulation helps build cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is the brain’s protective mechanism that helps delay symptoms of cognitive decline, so engaging the brain helps protect it over the long-term.
  4. Overall brain health depends upon working a variety of brain functions. It is not enough to engage only our memory or attention; we need an assortment of activities to keep our brains healthy, which is why the Method targets five domains.
  5. Routines don’t challenge the brain, so try something new or increase the level of difficulty. Activities should be challenging enough where they can be fun, but still engaging. Try alternating between Sudoku and crossword puzzles to work on and improve different skills.
  6. A bigger, more complex social network has been correlated with a bigger amygdala. This area of the brain is responsible for emotion and behavior. Those with bigger social circles are also less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness.
  7. A Mediterranean diet can improve brain health and has the potential to reduce shrinkage. The assortment of fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil have proven to protect the brain against cognitive decline.
  8. Chronic stress can block neuroplasticity. Under extreme stress, we have all noticed lapses in memory or attention to detail. It is important to promote calm and focus for optimal brain health.
  9. No one solution works! A multi-pronged approach works best, so include a healthy diet, exercise regimen, social schedule and mentally engaging activities in your plan.
  10. In addition, know your limits. A professional caregiver or Cognitive Therapeutics Interventionist can help you create a brain health plan that fits your unique needs and preferences!

To learn more about neuroplasticity and ways to proactively boost brain health, read The Brain Boost: A Practical Guide to Brain Health, one of the award-winning books in Home Care Assistance’s Healthy Longevity Series.


Potential Reversal of Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Dale Bredesen, professor at both the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and at the Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Research at UCLA, announced that he may have found a potential treatment for the reversal of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The push for a cure for Alzheimer’s is strong as over 5.4 million Americans currently live with the disease.

Published in the journal Aging, Bredesen and his research team studied ten people who were experiencing age-related memory loss. Nine of the ten participants had genetic mutations in the APOE4 gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease, putting them at high risk. Participants used a technique called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND), a 36-point personalized regimen focused on a healthy diet, exercise routine, brain stimulation, sleep improvements, medication and vitamins for 5 months to 2 years.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans and neuropsychological testing, the team was able to assess the success of the customized programs for each individual. They found that the MEND technique drastically improved the lives of the participants: those that had to leave work due to their memory decline were able to return, and others who had reported struggling with work saw an improvement in performance.

The hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, often shrinks in individuals with Alzheimer’s. At the beginning of the study, one patient’s hippocampal volume was in the 17th percentile for his age range, but after following the MEND program for 10 months, this specific participant’s hippocampal volume increased drastically to the 75th percentile.

Health care professionals agree that a personalized approach to brain health is the best way to prevent and delay signs of cognitive decline. However, not all scientists support the MEND approach, as it includes treating conditions that could be associated with Alzheimer’s, such as inflammation, and incorporates supplements that are not well studied or do not require FDA approval.

Bredesen hopes to further prove that treating the underlying causes and mechanisms of the disease will help reverse symptoms. So far, his efforts have proved valid, though a larger sample size and longer study would further validate the effectiveness of the program.

In line with Bredesen’s approach, the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is a personalized, one-on-one program designed to keep aging minds sharp. The Method is customized to each client’s unique needs and offers a range of activities that are fun yet just challenging enough to keep the brain engaged, thereby possibly delaying symptoms of cognitive decline. The Method has been an integral part of Home Care Assistance’s approach to brain health for seniors over the past three years.

To learn more about the Method, visit today.


The Link Between Heart and Brain Health

Senior getting heart health check upThe Cognitive Therapeutics team has noted the link between heart and brain health in previous posts, such as “3 Tips to Control High Blood Pressure”, which highlights the link between high blood pressure and dementia. To continue the conversation, we are sharing a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association that found a healthy heart may have major benefits for preventing cognitive decline associated with aging.

Researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University studied over 1,000 men and women with the average age of the participants being 72 years old. Participants underwent initial brain tests that assessed their memory and other cognitive abilities, followed by the completion of the same set of tests six years later. The research team also analyzed how well participants followed the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple Seven®”, a 7-part program designed to encourage the lifestyle choices that promote cardiovascular health. The 7 focuses of program include:

  • Avoiding Tobacco
  • Managing Weight Level
  • Engaging in Physical Activity
  • Eating a Healthy Diet
  • Monitoring Blood Pressure Levels
  • Controlling Cholesterol Levels
  • Reducing Glucose Levels

Of the 1000 volunteers, none met all seven goals and only 1 percent met six of the seven goals. Four percent met five goals, 14 percent met four goals and about 30 percent met three or two goals.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that participants with more ideal cardiovascular health factors had better brain health at the start of the study. The link was strongest between brain health and tobacco avoidance, ideal glucose levels or optimal weight levels. More ideal cardiovascular health factors were also associated with decreased cognitive decline over time.

Participants that didn’t achieve all seven goals still saw positive brain health benefits. Hannah Gardener, lead researcher of the study, recommends that individuals focus on improving a few areas at a time. “People shouldn’t feel discouraged if one or two [goals] feel out of reach,” she says.

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3 Tips to Control High Blood Pressure

Senior getting heart health check upIn recognition of Heart Month this February, the Cognitive Therapeutics team is raising awareness around the link between high blood pressure and an increased risk of dementia and stroke. Worldwide, there are 970 million people living with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The World Health Organization estimates that hypertension is one of the leading causes of premature death as it is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. In addition, a growing body of scientific literature indicates that hypertension may also be linked to cognitive decline and dementia. Most importantly, high blood pressure is both preventable and treatable; controlling risk factors for hypertension today may contribute to a healthier brain in the future.

Here are 3 tips we recommend to controlling or preventing high blood pressure:

  1. Eat a Mediterranean diet. Commonly known for its cardiovascular and brain health benefits, a Mediterranean diet is effective in delaying cognitive decline and regulating blood pressure. The diet consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, unrefined grains and fish along with a moderate consumption of wine. The key to reducing blood pressure is to eat a balanced, nutritional diet and to minimize salt intake, alcohol and tobacco usage.
  2. Exercise. Physical activity has been shown to improve brain health, boost mood and reduce blood pressure. Exercising promotes blood flow to the brain and heart, which increases the amount of oxygen flowing to these vital organs. We recommend 10-20 minutes of light physical activity daily.
  3. Get regular check-ups. It is important to be aware of your current blood pressure by getting regular check-ups with your primary physician, who will be able to help you identify risk factors and work with you to reduce them. If you have already received a diagnosis of hypertension, a physician can suggest lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure or prescribe pharmaceutical solutions, if necessary. 

Blood pressure may increase as a result of aging but leading a proactive, heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce that risk. By maintaining weight, eating a healthy diet, engaging in physical activity and attending regular check-ups, you will be able to manage your blood pressure and greatly reduce your risk of stroke and dementia.

In recognition of Heart Month, Home Care Assistance’s Patient Guides for Cardiac Rehabilitation and Post-Stroke Care are available to download for free from the company’s website. For more information, visit