With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the country, many Americans are looking forward to resuming their lives and returning to normal. This June, during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter is encouraging North Carolina residents to make brain health an important part of their return to normal.
“The past year has been extremely challenging for most Americans,” said Lisa Roberts, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter. “Chronic stress, like that experienced during the pandemic, can impact memory, mood and anxiety. As North Carolina residents begin to return to normal, we encourage them to make brain health a priority.”
The Alzheimer’s Association offers these five suggestions to promote brain health and to help North Carolina residents restore their mental well-being:
- Recommit to Brain-Healthy Basics
Evidence suggests that healthy behaviors took a backseat for many Americans during the pandemic. Gym memberships were put on hiatus, social engagement became more challenging and many Americans swapped out healthful eating for their favorite comfort foods, take-out meals and frequent snacking while working remotely. One study published recently found participants gained nearly 1.5 pounds per month over the past year, on average. The Alzheimer’s Association — through its U.S. POINTER Study — is examining the role lifestyle interventions, including diet, may play in protecting cognitive function. Right now, many experts agree that people can improve their brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline by adopting healthy lifestyle habits, preferably in combination, including:
– Exercising regularly
– Maintaining a heart-healthy diet
– Getting proper sleep
– Staying socially and mentally active
- Return to Normal at Your Own Pace
Many Americans are eager for a return to normal life following the pandemic, but others are anxious. In fact, one recent survey found that nearly half of adults (49%) report feeling uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions when the pandemic ends. For those feeling anxious, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests taking small steps. It may also be important to set boundaries and communicate your preferences to others in your social circles.
- Help Others
There is evidence to suggest that helping others during the pandemic may not only make you feel better, but it may be good for you as well. Research shows that helping others in a crisis can be an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety. One study published during the pandemic found that adults over age 50 who volunteer for about two hours per week have a substantially reduced risk of dying, higher levels of physical activity and an improved sense of well-being. To help others and yourself during June and throughout the year, volunteer in your community, run errands or deliver meals to a home-bound senior or donate to a favorite cause, such as supporting participants in the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day event on June 20.
- Unplug and Disconnect
Technology has dominated our daily lives during the pandemic like never before. While technology has kept us connected through COVID-19, it has also created fatigue for many Americans. Experts warn that excessive stimulation coming from our phones, computers, social media sources and news reports can add to our already heightened anxiety levels. To avoid technology overload, experts advise setting limits on your screen time, avoid carrying your phone everywhere, and disconnecting from digital devices at bedtime.
- Control Your Stress Before it Controls You
In small doses, stress teaches the brain how to respond in healthy ways to the unexpected, inconvenient or unpleasant realities of daily life. Prolonged or repeated stress, however, can wear down and damage the brain, leading to serious health problems including depression, anxiety disorders, memory loss and increased risk for dementia. Reports indicate that Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers are especially vulnerable to physical and emotional stress. The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to help manage caregiver stress. Meditation, exercise, listening to music or returning to a favorite activity you have missed during the pandemic are just some ways to manage stress. Do what works best for you.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an overwhelming time for all of us,” Roberts said. “It’s important for people to know there are steps we can take to lessen the stress and anxiety we might be feeling. It can be easy to take brain health for granted, but now more than ever, it’s a good idea to make it a priority.”
Currently, the Alzheimer’s Association and representatives from more than 40 countries are working together to study the short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the brain and nervous system in people at different ages, and from different genetic backgrounds.
During Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, join the Alzheimer’s Association in North Carolina to learn about research in the areas of diet and nutrition, cognitive activity, and social engagement.
“Healthy Brain, Healthy Body, Healthy You Symposium” — will take place on June 7-11. Discover strategies and activities to incorporate into your plan for healthy aging in our seven-part series. Sponsored by Sharon Towers, this interactive virtual experience includes sessions such as a cooking demonstration and gentle yoga. Join all sessions or just those of interest.
- Part 1: Healthy Living for Your Brain and Body Overview – June 7
- Part 2: Mindfulness Matters – June 8
- Part 3: Med Instead of Meds: Eating the Mediterranean Way for Better Health – June 9
- Part 4: Gentle Yoga (seated) -June 9
- Part 5: Engaging with Art – June 10
- Part 6: Mediterranean Cooking Demonstration – June 10
- Part 7: Gentle Yoga (Mat) – June 11
“Taking PRIDE in Healthy Living” — will take place virtually on Thursday June 17 from 6:00-7:30 p.m. Science provides insights into how to make lifestyle choices that may help you keep your brain and body healthy as you age. Join us to learn about research in the areas of diet and nutrition, exercise, cognitive activity, and social engagement. Hear from panelists such as Dr. Rhett Brown, a top healthcare provider for LGBTQ+ individuals and others who provide services and social activities to the LGBTQ+ community across North Carolina.
“The Longest Day®” — leading up to and culminating on June 20, the summer solstice, and the day with the most light – local residents will join advocates across North Carolina and the world to participate in The Longest Day to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice. Together, they will use their creativity and passion to raise critical funds and awareness to advance Alzheimer’s Association® care, support, and research programs. Participants can support the event at home, online or in-person – biking, hiking, playing bridge, knitting and more – to shine a light on the more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and the more than 11 million family members and friends providing care and support.
Additional information on virtual educational programs and other care and support resources or how to get involved with the Association, can be found by visiting the Alzheimer’s Association, Eastern North Carolina Chapter at alz.org/nc or by calling our 24/7 Helpline 800-272-3900.
About Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month:
Created by the Alzheimer’s Association in 2014, Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month is dedicated to encouraging a global conversation about the brain and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, available resources and how you can get involved to support the cause, visitalz.org/abam.
About the Alzheimer’s Association:
The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support, and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®.
About the Alzheimer’s Association – Eastern North Carolina Chapter:
The Eastern North Carolina Chapter provides patient and family services, information and referral, education, and advocacy in 51 eastern North Carolina counties. It offers opportunities to get involved and to make a difference, in addition to a variety of services including: a 24/7 Helpline, support groups, educational programs, and MedicAlert®. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease, or the Alzheimer’s Association, Eastern North Carolina Chapter, visit alz.org/nc or call 800-272-3900.
Submitted by Christine John-Fuller, Alzheimer’s Association