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7 Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

Our mental health and wellbeing impacts our overall happiness, the quality of our relationships and our ability to manage our emotions. In recognition of World Mental Health Day on Saturday, October 10th, the Cognitive Therapeutics Team has put together 7 tips to improve your mental health so that you can enjoy life to the fullest.

  1. Exercise. Taking care of your physical health will positively affect your mental wellbeing too. Exercise relieves stress and boosts mood so it is a good idea to aim for 15-20 minutes of light exercise daily.
  2. Eat well. A balanced diet is the key to a happy brain. In a recent study, unhealthy eating was linked with decreased hippocampal volume, a brain region associated with mood regulation, and directly associated with depression.
  3. De-stress. Methods to relieve stress are extremely beneficial to brain health, which is why meditation is widely acclaimed as an effective way to promote calm and reduce stress. Regular meditators often have decreased volume of the amygdala, a region that is associated with fear and stress.
  4. Sleep. A good night’s sleep is associated with improved mental wellbeing. Alternatively, lack of sleep can impact one’s ability to perform basic activities of daily living and also increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease or other brain health issues down the line.
  5. Socialize. Having a strong, stable support system to rely on can help you relieve stress. Engage regularly with current friends or join a community group with others who share your interests to make more friends and stay even more connected. Socializing with friends and family improves mood and helps us thrive.
  6. Try Something New. Build your self-esteem by engaging in new hobbies or activities that you find interesting. Have fun while learning a new skill or process, educating yourself on a new subject or creating something unique.
  7. Get help when needed. If you have tried to improve your mental health but are still experiencing negative feelings, it may be helpful to seek advice from a knowledgeable, caring professional.

Happy to 102Improved mental health can boost your zest for life and resilience in the face of hard times. Remember that it is okay to seek professional medical help if needed. For more information on living a long and happy life, read Happy to 102: The Best Kept Secrets for a Long and Happy Life, part of the Senior Wellness Series from Home Care Assistance, which offers tips on boosting longevity, as well as quality of life. This book is available for purchase on



How Diet Impacts Brain Volume

Healthy FoodsThe quality of one’s diet is often associated with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and both diet quality and mental wellbeing can impact cognitive health. Researchers from Deakin University and the Australian National University have recently found a correlation between diet quality and brain volume, specifically the volume of the hippocampal brain region, an area believed to be involved in learning, memory and mental health.

Data was drawn from the Personality and Total Health Through Life Study, a large, on-going project that is tracking environmental factors, mental health and the cognitive abilities of over 7,500 people. A subset of 255 people was used, consisting of adults between 60 to 64 years old. Data from the participants started in 2001 and included a food frequency questionnaire and two magnetic resonance imaging scans taken four years apart.

Based on this data, the research team looked for a correlation between diet quality and hippocampal volume. They found that for every one standard deviation increase in a healthy diet, there was a 45.7 mm3 increase in the left hippocampus. Individuals who consumed an unhealthier, “Western” diet had a correlated 52.6 mm3 decrease in left hippocampal volume. There was no relationship found between diet quality and right hippocampal volume.

The hippocampal region plays an important role in the consolidation of short-term memories into long-term memories and is involved in spatial navigation skills. The hippocampus is also associated with mood regulation and is specifically implicated in depression. This is one of the first regions to suffer damage in Alzheimer’s disease. These findings suggest that lower consumption of nutrient-rich foods and higher consumption of unhealthy foods both contribute independently to decreased hippocampal volume, which could affect memory and spatial navigation skills over time.

This study emphasizes the importance of a healthy, varied diet and how it could have implications on mental wellbeing and brain health. The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ recommends a Mediterranean diet for optimal cardiovascular and brain health. A Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, beans, unrefined grains and fish along with a moderate consumption of wine. Incorporate a variety of nutrient-rich foods into your diet and limit sugary, processed foods for a healthier lifestyle approach.


Sleep Position May Affect Brain Health

According to recent research, the position you sleep in may affect your brain health. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that sleeping on your side as opposed to the back or stomach allows the brain to discard waste products more efficiently, thereby reducing the risk for neurological diseases.

Senior Woman SleepingResearchers from Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York used rodent models to examine how sleeping affects the glymphatic system. The glymphatic system consists of pathways that run alongside vessels in the brain, which is where cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) circulates and clears out metabolic waste from the brain. This system is mostly ineffective during the day, but during sleep, the glymphatic pathways increase in size by about 60 percent, allowing more CSF to flow through at a higher rate. Amyloid and tau proteins, common waste byproducts in the brain, are cleared out during this process but can build up and contribute to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The rodents were anesthetized and separated into three groups based on the different sleeping positions: lateral (side), prone (stomach) and supine (back). Researchers used dynamic contrast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and kinetic modeling to look at the exchange rates of the CSF and interstitial fluids in the glymphatic pathway in each position.

The study found that the lateral position correlated with the most efficient glymphatic transport. Rodents in the lateral position cleared out amyloid beta 25 percent more effectively than rodents in the supine or prone positions. Clearing amyloid beta out the brain prevents build-up and the formation of plaques, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The lateral position could be more effective at clearing out waste because it allows CSF to flow throughout all of the brain’s crevices. The supine and prone positions may cause CSF to exit the brain prematurely and flow to other places, such as the spinal cord.

Scientists have known for some time that sleeping gives the brain time to clear out waste that has built up during the day, but this new finding adds another dimension by highlighting the importance of sleep posture. Interestingly, sleeping on our sides in the fetal position is the most common sleeping position in humans and most animals. Learning more about when the glymphatic pathway turns on and works most efficiently could help researchers discover more effective ways to clear waste out of the brain.

Until this research is proven in humans, the most important takeaway is that the glymphatic pathway is most effective at night, emphasizing the importance of a good night’s sleep. Be proactive about your brain health and get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night. To learn about other non-pharmacological ways to promote brain health, visit


Diets High in Sugar and Fat Can Hurt Cognitive Health

DoughnutsIt is widely known that a healthy, balanced diet promotes not only physical health but brain health too. Researchers at Oregon State University conducted a study to further understand how diet affects the brain and found that high-fat and high-sugar diets induce bacterial changes in the gut, which can cause a decline in cognitive flexibility.

The trial was conducted on lab mice, which were given one of three diets: high-fat, high-sugar or normal. After being on the diets for four weeks, the mice underwent a series of tests to assess their behavior and cognitive function. They were also tested before and after the trial to look at each diet’s impact on bacteria in the gut.

The researchers found that the mice on the high-fat and high-sugar diets declined the most in their abilities to be cognitively flexible. Strong cognitive flexibility means that an individual can adapt quickly to new situations without too much added stress. For example, if you drove home via the same route every day and one day a road was closed for construction, someone with cognitive flexibility would determine an alternate route to get home and remember to take the new route the next day. Someone with declining cognitive flexibility may be slower at determining a new route and the added difficulty could cause increased stress and frustration. Decline in performance was most notable in mice given the high-sugar diet, which was found to also impair early learning for short- and long-term memory.

The food we eat affects our microbiome, a complex mixture of over 100 trillion microorganisms that make up the digestive system. Microbiota, bacteria from the gut, can affect brain health by acting as neurotransmitters, stimulating sensory nerves or the immune system and affecting biological functions that relay messages to the brain. A microbiome analysis of the mice found a higher percentage of “bad” microbiota and lower amounts of healthy bacteria in the mice that had eaten a high-fat or high-sugar diet, which directly correlated with their cognitive flexibility performance. The way our diet impacts our minds brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “you are what you eat”.

Instead of a high-fat, high-sugar snack like a donut, try a healthy alternative like dark chocolate or blueberries, which both promote the removal of toxins and increase blood flow to the brain. By incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods into your diet, you can promote brain health and stave off symptoms of cognitive decline.


Balance Can be an Indicator of Risk for Stroke and Cognitive Decline

Researchers in Japan recently found a correlation between the ability to balance on one leg and the risk for stroke and cognitive decline in a study of over a thousand healthy adults. To assess the risks, the researchers looked for the presence of “microbleeds”, which are tiny lesions in the brain that can lead to stroke and cognitive decline over time.

BalancingThe study, published in the American Heart Association’s Journal Stroke, was conducted at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine. Researchers assessed the balance of 1,387 adults with an average age of 67 by recording their one-leg standing time. The participants were asked to stand up and raise one leg in front of them, bent at the knee, for as long as they could. They repeated this on both legs twice, totaling two attempts per leg. All attempts were timed but only the best time for each leg was recorded. Participants were then given an MRI brain scan to identify any microbleeds or other abnormalities in the brain.

Results showed a correlation between the length of time an individual could balance and the incidence of microbleeds and other brain tissue abnormalities. Among those that maintained their balance for less than 20 seconds, only 10% were free of microbleeds while 24% had two or more. This indicates that lack of balance is strongly correlated with the presence of microbleeds, which are in turn risk indicators for stroke and cognitive decline. Researchers also looked for “lacunar infarction lesions”, which are lesions associated with a type of stroke that is caused when an artery providing blood to the brain’s deepest regions is blocked. Less than 10% of people with poor balance were completely free of lacunar lesions, while 35% of those with poor balance had two or more. These results remained consistent even after researchers controlled for factors such as age, arterial health and blood pressure.

The research team concluded that poor balance on one leg could indicate future problems with brain health and risk for stroke, though further research is needed. To learn more about stroke and post-stroke care needs, read Chapter 15 of From Hospital to Home Care, one of eight informative books in the Home Care Assistance Healthy Longevity Book Series.


“Association of Postural Instability with Asymptomatic Cerebrovascular Damage and Cognitive Decline.” Http:// American Heart Association, n.d. Web.

Di Salvo, David. “Try This Simple Test Of Brain Health — You Can Do It Standing On One Leg.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web.

Researchers Capture Stunning Images of Brains Affected by Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disease, is characterized by tremors, muscular rigidity and slow, imprecise movements. Brain cells situated in the substantia nigra area of the brain produce dopamine, a chemical that communicates messages between the substantia nigra and other brain regions to control body movements. In PD, neurodegeneration occurs when these specific brain cells in the substantia nigra are damaged and do not produce enough dopamine, leading to uncontrolled movements and shakes. Parkinson’s UK recently organized a competition called “Picturing Parkinson’s” in remembrance of Dr. Jonathan Stevens, who had passed last December from PD.

“Beautiful images like ‘Waterlillies’ would be at home in the Tate, but are in fact the product of tireless researchers working to unpick what’s going awry in the hundreds of millions of nerve cells to cause people to develop Parkinson’s,” said Dr. Arthur Roach, Research Director at Parkinson’s UK. “As well as being visually arresting, the images give us unique insights into how we could intervene and stop Parkinson’s, or even prevent the condition in the first place.”

Brian Stevens, Dr. Steven’s father, judged the pictures with his family. “Jonathan would be honored that this competition was held in his memory,” he commented. “He was an avid supporter of Parkinson’s research, and communicating its progress to inspire other people with Parkinson’s.”

Picturing Parkinson's, First Place Picture

First place was awarded to “Nerve Superhighway” by Rowan Orme of the University of Keele. The green branch-like objects in the picture are axons, which facilitate communication between areas of the brain. These are the connections that break down in Parkinson’s.



Picturing Parkinson's, Second Place Picture

Second place went to ‘Waterlillies’ by Nicola Drummond of Edinburgh University. The bright pinks and green show the protein, Alpha-sinuclein, which builds up in a brain with Parkinson’s.





Picturing Parkinson's, 'Tangled'
“Tangled” by Joel Beevers







Picturing Parkinson's, 'Tangled'Dr. Amy Reeve photographed mitochondria, which are the “batteries” of our cells, providing us with energy.





Picturing Parkinson's, 'Tangled'
Heather Booth captured this image, entitled “Purple Haze”.







View the top 10 photos from the Picturing Parkinson’s image competition here.



Barns, Sarah. “Picturing Parkinson’s: Scientists Capture Vivid Images of the Brain.” Daily Express Health RSS. N.p., 17 Nov. 2014. Web.

Picturing Parkinson’s: Beauty in Our Brains Revealed

“What Is Parkinson’s Disease?” National Parkinson Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web.