Community Stories/News

Get on the Brain Train by Mary Bates, MS, CMT

Understanding Dementia

Currently, three out of five Americans will develop a brain disease in their lifetime. To live a long and fulfilling life, you need a healthy brain, one that allows you to communicate with others, solve simple and complex problems, and observe and understand the world around you, says the American Heart Association.

Both the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Clinic recommend simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes that can have a significant impact on your brain health.

Your brain health relies on everything from how much you eat and drink, how much you exercise, how you manage stress, how well you sleep, and the ways in which you socialize notes the Cleveland Clinic, which has developed Six Pillars of Brain Health.

The Pillars include (1) Exercising regularly; (2) Eating a diet rich in antioxidants; (3) Controlling health risks like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol; (4) Getting enough sleep and managing stress; (5) Keeping your mind active; just as with physical exercise, it’s a case of use it or lose it; and (6) Staying connected with other people.

Similarly, following the American Heart Association Life’s Simple 7® checklist recommendations can improve a person’s overall cardiovascular health, which impacts brain health.

Life’s Simple 7® checklist includes (1) Keeping your blood pressure within a healthy range; (2) Controlling your cholesterol; (3) Reducing your blood sugar; (4) Staying active through physical activity; (5) Eating a heart-healthy diet; (6) Losing weight if you are carrying extra pounds, and (7) stopping smoking.

“Following the recommendations in both of those checklists can help you stay physically and mentally healthy,” says The Morrison Communities’ Memory Care Community Director and Certified Dementia Practitioner Mary Bates, MS, CT. “If the recommendations seem overwhelming, start small and tackle two or three at a time. Little steps can yield big results over time.”

Crank Up the Music

If you want to do something good for your brain, turn on your music player and sing along to a few songs.

“Better yet, sing and dance at the same time,” says Mary. “It sounds like a simple exercise, but, really, it’s a full brain workout. That’s because music stimulates many areas of the brain, including those responsible for memory, movement, and mood, according to a new report from the AARP-founded Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH). Music even gets different parts of the brain working together simultaneously.”

“Nothing activates the brain like music,” says Jonathan Burdette, a professor of neuroradiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and a contributor to the GCBH report.

And all that brain activation translates into some serious health benefits, notes the GCBH study. Researchers have found that music can improve sleep and sharpen memory, as well as reduce stress and stimulate thinking skills — all of which are good for maintaining brain health as we age.

“Music makes everything we know about improving your brain easier,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, senior vice president for policy and brain health at AARP and executive director of the GCBH. “It makes the medicine go down.”

Mary Bates, MS, CT is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.

Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email Mary will share information and answer as many questions as possible through this column. Learn more about Summit by Morrison at


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