Brain health concerns us all – it is worth maintaining, especially as we get older

Brain health is the sum of many factors, but fortunately, there are simple, concrete actions you can take to maintain your brain health. Tweaking your diet, engaging in light exercise and ensuring sufficient sleep and rest improves brain health.
Ihmisiä pöydässä istumassa
Photo: Sakari Röyskö

“Brain health means comprehensive well-being from infancy to old age. It consists of making healthy choices when it comes to your diet, physical activity and cardiac health, not forgetting your mental health,” says Marja-Liisa Laakkonen, Chief Physician at the Geriatric Outpatient Clinic.  

“Adding some more steps to your day, tweaking your diet, engaging in light exercise, solving a couple of sudoku puzzles and ensuring sufficient sleep and rest will take you a long way. Our own actions play a major role in our brain health,” says Linda Treuthardt, Physiotherapist and Senior Instructor at Kamppi Service Centre.

Risk of illness increases with age 

In terms of brain health, age increases the risk of developing a memory disorder. For example, retiring may end the social relationships you had at your work community and also your contact with occupational health care.

“At this point in life, it is particularly important to pay attention to your brain health. Age increases the risk of illness considerably, most strongly among people over the age of 85,” Laakkonen says.

“However, having a healthy lifestyle can help you delay the risk of developing a memory disorder,” Laakkonen continues.

“Genetic factors certainly play a role, but even minor lifestyle adjustments can make a big difference.”

However, brain health does not only concern the elderly, but also the working age population.

“Multitasking and constant interruptions are poison to our brain. Our brain needs boredom, sufficient sleep and being allowed to focus on one thing at a time without constant interruptions or alarms going off,” Laakkonen points out.

“I challenge all employers to consider whether it really is necessary for everyone to be constantly available.”

Variety of services available to support your brain health

Helsinki offers a variety of low-threshold services to support your brain health.

For example, service centres organise memory cafés and memory groups that are open to all elderly people. You need not have any memory symptoms or a diagnosed memory disorder to participate in the groups and café activities, but they are intended for anyone interested in brain health, memory and memory disorders.

Service centres also organise different lectures and events that are open to all. Kamppi Service Centre hosts the Brain Health Fair every year.

Separate memory groups are also available for people who have already been diagnosed with a memory disorder and for those who have challenges with their memory. Some of the groups are closed and some open to all. There are also different groups available for informal caregivers.

Memory group activities include physical activities, singing, games and discussions.

“Our programme largely depends on the requests and needs of the participants. Naturally, it is always based on research data,” Treuthardt says.

“The importance of social contacts cannot be underestimated. Studies have shown that group-form activities are one of the best ways to support brain health,” Treuthardt and Laakkonen emphasise.

For more information on different memory groups and finding the one that best suits your needs, please contact your local service centre.

“Everyone is warmly welcome to visit us,” Treuthardt says.

“In addition to the service centres, Senior Info provides information on various services available to support your memory and brain health,” says Project Specialist Marjut Karlsson.

If you are concerned about your brain health or memory, help is available from the service centres and your local health station 

If your short-term memory does not seem to be working, you are constantly irritable, struggle with perception, have difficulties producing speech or your symptoms are complicating your daily chores at home, your situation should be investigated in more detail.

“If you find that home baked buns no longer taste good as you repeatedly forget to put in a key ingredient, it might be a good idea to stop and consider why this may be. Paying attention to changes in your functional ability and verbalising them are key,” says Marja-Liisa Laakkonen.

You can discuss your brain health at a low threshold, for example, with a service centre social instructor.

“If there is no clear reason behind your memory issues, such as insomnia, the matter should be investigated in more detail,” Laakkonen and Treuthardt say.

If the matter requires further investigation, Laakkonen encourages you to contact your local health station.

“In Helsinki, health stations refer clients to memory examinations. They do a great job in detecting potential memory issues and referring clients to examinations, for example, to us at the Geriatric Outpatient Clinic.”

Top 7 tips for looking after your brain health by Marja-Liisa, Linda and Marjut

  1. Physical activity
  2. Healthy diet
  3. Social contacts and good spirits
  4. Good care of any underlying health conditions
  5. Sufficient sleep and rest
  6. Protecting your head from impact (e.g. wearing a bicycle helmet)
  7. Intoxicant-free lifestyle