Michele M. Kroll, Ph.D. Behavioral Health and Well-Being Field Specialist

Over 27,000 people aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in NH, with 6.9% aged 45 and older having a risk of cognitive decline according to the Alzheimer’s Association [1]. 48,000 New Hampshire family caregivers provided 77 million hours of unpaid care in 2023 valuing over $1,529,000. Sixty-six percent of caregivers reported having at least one chronic condition and 29% reported depression [1].

Dementia is an umbrella term for loss of memory, language, and problem-solving abilities critical enough to disrupt everyday living. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia but other types include Frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, Vascular dementia (evidence of prior strokes or transient ischemic attack (TIA’s), Parkinson’s and brain injury [1].

Alzheimer’s begins 20 years or more before memory loss and other symptoms develop [1]. Not all cognitive decline is due to dementia. Some causes of cognitive change are treatable and reversible. Early identification and intervention is key. You are never too old to develop a brain healthy lifestyle.

Key Strategies to Keep your Mind Sharp:

The Theory of Cognitive Reserve plays a vital role in brain health which relates to brain networks generating new neural connections as we age. Diversity is key for brain fitness and building cognitive reserve [2]. A holistic approach can modify risk factors and may prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia incidence [3]. Follow these Brain Fitness principles to build cognitive reserve.

  1. Walking the Walk- Cardio exercise such as walking has been linked to growth in the area of the brain that is associated with creating new memories. Physical activity lowers the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes which increase the risk for dementia.

  1. Mix it Up- Practice the FITT Principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type). Cross-training using types of physical movement such as endurance, strength and flexibility give the most benefits.

  1. Just Breathe- Meditation has been found to improve memory and attention. Regulate stress and anxiety by adding Yoga, mindfulness and breathing exercises to your routine. Relax and just breathe. Studies have shown that people with anxiety and depression have a higher risk for dementia [4].

  1. Leave Debbie Downers at the Door- Reducing negative thinking lessens stress and forms new pathways in your brain. Having a trusted friend or professional to talk to when life is overwhelming can help your body cope with the fight or flight stress response and reregulate to rest and digest. To learn more about how mental health and brain health are connected read this blog article Mental Health and the Brain

  1. You are What You Eat- Nutrition is key to supporting healthy brain function and reducing risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. These conditions have been shown to increase the risk for dementia. Foods that contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties improve brain function as well as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish [5]. Read this blog article for more information about Brain Healthy Foods.

  1. Grab a Cup of Joe- Blueberries, walnuts, non-fat yogurt, salmon, salad greens, dark chocolate and coffee have been shown to improve memory or brain performance.

  1. Get Your “Smarts” On- Research has shown that learning something new increases cognitive function more than doing something you already know. For example, if you do crosswords daily, increase the difficulty level to challenge your brain and try a new brain game or activity. Practice new and different intellectual brain games, such as crosswords, Sudoku, puzzles, playing an instrument, or learning a new language.

  1. Let Your Social Butterfly “Fly”- Maintaining frequent social contact provides us with a sense of connection, purpose and support. Communication in itself exercises the brain using thinking, language and vocabulary skills. People experiencing prolonged social isolation are more prone to reduced sleep, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to poorer cognitive function and Alzheimer’s disease [6].

  1. Seeking the Spiritual- Spiritual activity can include many things from religion, meditation, mindfulness, practicing forgiveness and gratitude journaling. Health benefits of spirituality include connection within yourself, social support, a sense of connection to a higher power, letting go of anger, stress reduction and improved attention, gratitude, optimism and hope.

Learn More about Brain Fitness:

Boost Your Brain & Memory, developed by Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging, is an evidence-based program designed to help individuals learn and practice the most promising strategies for keeping their brain healthy as they age. This program uses a unique, whole-person approach to brain fitness, providing healthy practices to help you remember things better, be more organized, pay closer attention, and reduce stress—as well as reduce risk of dementia. This is a multi-faceted brain health program that goes beyond simple brain games focusing on lifestyle factors that impact brain health, and memory strategies that participants can implement in their daily lives. To learn more: Boost Your Brain and Memory Program


[1] Alzheimer's Facts and Figures Accessed 4/3/2024

[2] M Tucker, A., & Stern, Y. (2011). Cognitive reserve in aging. Current Alzheimer Research8(4), 354-360.

[3] Livingston, G., Huntley, J., Sommerlad, A., Ames, D., Ballard, C., Banerjee, S., ... & Mukadam, N. (2020). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet396(10248), 413-446.

[4] Brain Health and Alzheimer's Research Accessed 5/10/2023.

[5] Melzer TM, Manosso LM, Yau SY, et al. In pursuit of healthy aging: Effects of nutrition on brain function. Int J Mol Sci. 2021;22(9):5026.

[6] Social Isolation Health Risks Accesses 4/3/2024


Behavioral Health & Well-being
Extension Field Specialist, Health & Well-Being
Phone: (603) 863-9200
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824