When it comes to complex biology, the brain commands. To understand how the brain controls our movements, behaviors, thoughts and memories, and how it changes when things go wrong, we asked Stanford neurologist Sharon Sha to intervene. For a #AskMeAnything, you talked about all things neuro – from how you can sharpen your mental acuity, to what happens when you lose a memory.
Sha, specializing in the care of patients with cognitive and neurodegenerative disorders, weighed in a multitude of questions related to the brain and cognition and even shared a peek in what it was like to work actor Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor in several Marvel Studios “Avengers” movies) on a docuseries.
Below is a collection of questions and answers hosted on our Instagram account. The following questions and answers have been slightly edited for clarity.
What can be done to reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease?
Great question! The best way to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is to exercise.
There is a lot of data (and more to come!) Showing that exercise helps stimulate the brain. Very similar when we have an endorphin rush while by exercising, we can create something in the body that feeds the brain. Some scientists believe it a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor – or BDNF – helps the brain and memory center (the hippocampus), in particular.
Other ways to reduce risk are to keep the brain energized, eat a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, sleep well, and socialize.
The best advice for sharpening attention / concentration for students?
Take breaks! There is evidence to support the idea that even a 20-minute walk in nature helps improve concentration. The thinking behind this is that the constant stimulation of technological places a a strong demand for attention (emails, text messages, etc.), but disconnecting and focusing on the sights and sounds of nature improves our attention and working memory.
When a memory is lost, is there a way to bring it back?
Unfortunately, if memory is lost due to Alzheimer’s, there is no way to bring it back. The best thing is Do everything you can to reduce your risk of dementia with lifestyle measures like exercise, eat healthy, keep your brain active, socialize, sleep well and feel good! Can anyone use the set off that work well for workarounds like keeping lists, using a calendar, maintaining routines, and asking for help.
What it was like to work
Thor aka Chris Hemsworth?
Chris was great. He is such a professional. He was a producer of a docuseries shot for National Geographic on the potential of the human body then he would contribute great ideas and suggestions for the content. It’s also a lot of fun, although I think I’m more fun!
There are certain foods that are better for your brain?
The Mediterranean a heart-healthy diet is best for your brain. We don’t know what’s in the diet that helps our brains, but it’s probably the lean protein, the high amount of fruit and vegetables, and few fried foods. If your culture isn’t MediterraneanI usually suggest not changing your diet completely.Rather, I suggest eating healthier versions of your familiar foods, growing vegetables and decreasing fat food. Unfortunately, there is no magic food or pill we can take.
If I forget my passwords or forget why I entered a room, is this normal or a sign of cognitive decline?
We can all walk into a room and forget why we did it. This can be part of normal aging, distraction, or poor sleep! It can also be part of a degenerative disease such as dementia. The pattern of symptoms and whether it is affecting your ability to function independently can help understand this symptom in the context of having a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
There are any exercise or memory activities I should do with my grandmother (short term memory loss)?
What does your grandmother like to do? Do you like gardening, knitting, talking about old memories / photos, dancing, listening to music? Let her interests guide you and encourage her to talk about it, interact with them, teach you about it! The things that stimulate her will help keep her brain as sharp as possible and teach you more about her!
How does music affect the brain?
Nobody really knows how it affects the brain. However, music can have strong associations with emotions That Power “tag “remembers very well – such like when an old favorite song brings remember back and related feelings about the song. For this reason, I often suggest Alzheimer’s patients to play happy old songs to inspire and calm us down.
Does playing puzzles or other games help prevent memory loss?
Yup! But they don’t have to be puzzles or games. Anything that stimulates your mind is good for the brain. Something that is interactive is even better for your brain!
Photo of alfaspirit