Brain Health

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It is the body's control system that impacts every aspect of life. It is never too early to start improving your brain health.

What is brain health?

Brain health is important at all ages!

Brain health is the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioral, and motor domains.  It allows a person to realize their full potential over the life course. Many factors influence how our brains develop and adapt which contributes to the overall health of our brains. There are preventive strategies that can help to reduce the risk of conditions that can affect the brain and impair brain functioning (like Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias). Talking to your healthcare provider about ways to keep your brain healthy at any age is important.

Check out some ways to improve your brain health below by engaging in a healthy lifestyle!

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What is a healthy lifestyle?

A healthy lifestyle is a way in which a person lives and includes choosing habits and behaviors to improve a person's overall health and well-being. Healthy behaviors learned early in life are more likely to be maintained during adulthood. However, healthy behaviors incorporated at any age can profoundly impact brain health. The strategies below may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias and promote brain health before symptoms develop.

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Listen to Noggin. Protect Your Brain.
Noggin shares ways for kids to protect their brain!

Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Avoid Alcohol Misuse

Excessive alcohol consumption over a lengthy period of time can lead to brain damage and may increase your risk of developing dementia. Additionally, drinking in moderation has not been shown to offer significant protection against dementia. As such, people who do not currently drink alcohol should not be encouraged to start as a way to reduce dementia risk. Although past studies have indicated moderate alcohol consumption has protective health benefits (e.g., reducing the risk of heart disease), recent studies show this may not be true. Emerging evidence suggests even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death from various causes.


Concussions and Helmet Safety

A hit to the head can hurt your brain. When your brain gets hurt, you might get a headache or feel dizzy, tired, grumpy, or sick to your stomach. If this happens, you might have a brain injury called a concussion or a mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI). Repeated head impacts can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Prevent a brain injury during certain activities by wearing a helmet! While there is no concussion-proof helmet, a helmet can help protect you from a serious brain or head injury. Even with a helmet, it is important to avoid hits to the head.

View Helmet Fact Sheets for various sports here

Did you hit your head and don’t feel well?

  • Tell someone about it. If you are a child or teen, tell a parent, teacher, coach, or the school nurse. If you are an adult, tell another adult.

  • Get checked out by a medical professional. Medical professionals know how to check for a concussion and can advise you on proper care, including referral to a concussion clinic if needed.

  • Give your brain time to heal when you have a concussion. If you are in sports, this may mean taking a break. Follow the advice of a medical professional about when and how you can resume activity.


Eat Healthy

Eating a healthy diet can help  improve your overall health, including your brain health. A healthy diet:

  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.

  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.

  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.

  • Stays within your daily calorie needs.


Get Enough Sleep and Relaxation

According to research, the most effective time the brain can clear out toxic waste is during sleep. Poor quality of sleep or not getting enough sleep is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, and it is important for the overall health of your brain. A third of American adults report they usually get less sleep than the recommended amount. How much sleep do you need? It depends on your age. Take time to rest and recharge.


Manage and Prevent Chronic Disease

Hypertension and diabetes may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. If you have these chronic diseases, management of them is especially important for your brain health.

Prediabetes is when your blood sugar (glucose) levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Having prediabetes puts you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, which can then impact your brain health. The good news is that prediabetes is reversible!


Manage Your Mental Health

Most people feel low or sad from time to time. This is not the same as being depressed. Depression is a condition that can last for several weeks or months. A diagnosis of depression in adulthood could more than double your risk of developing dementia in older age, according to a new study. If you have a diagnosis of depression, it is important to find coping strategies that work for you. Management of depression may reduce your risk of dementia and improve your overall brain health.

Try these coping strategies if you are feeling depressed:

  • Stay in touch. Don't withdraw from life, friends, and family. Socializing can improve your mood.

  • Be more physically active. This can be as simple as taking a walk.

  • Try to eat a healthy diet.

  • Try to maintain a routine as much as possible, with the same waking and sleep times and mealtimes.

  • Seek help and support.

    • Mental health services are available for children and youth under the age of 18 who have serious emotional disturbance (SED) through the Youth Empowerment Services (YES) system of care.

    • Are you in crisis? If you are considering suicide or need to talk, you can call or text 988 – the Idaho Crisis & Suicide Hotline. If you feel you cannot keep yourself safe, go to the nearest emergency department or call 911.


Protect Your Hearing

In a study  tracking 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins researchers found  mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate loss tripled the risk, and people with severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia. People who are deaf and who use sign language are not known to be more or less likely to experience dementia than the general (hearing) population, but it has not been studied as extensively.

Everything from genes and noise exposure to medications, head injuries, and infections can play a role in hearing loss. Trouble detecting soft or high-pitched sounds is often the first sign stereocilia—the delicate hair cells that convert sound waves into electrical signals within the ear—have been damaged. Soft sounds include phone conversations or background noise in settings such as restaurants. High-pitched sounds may include children’s voices. Ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, is another early signal of possible hearing loss. 

Hearing loss caused by exposure to loud sound is preventable. To reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss, adults and children can do the following:

  • Understand noise-induced hearing loss can lead to communication difficulties, learning difficulties, pain or ringing in the ears (tinnitus), distorted or muffled hearing, and an inability to hear some environmental sounds and warning signals.

  • Identify sources of loud sounds (such as gas-powered lawnmowers, snowmobiles, power tools, gunfire, or music) that can contribute to hearing loss and try to reduce exposure.

  • Adopt behaviors to protect hearing:

    • Avoid or limit exposure to excessively loud sounds.

    • Turn down the volume of music systems.

    • Move away from the source of loud sounds when possible.

    • Use hearing protection devices when it is not feasible to avoid exposure to loud sounds or reduce them to a safe level.

  • Seek a hearing evaluation by a licensed audiologist or other qualified professional, especially if there is concern about potential hearing loss.


Quit Smoking and Vaping

Quitting both smoking and e-cigarettes ("vaping") can help maintain brain health and reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses.

Many people think vaping only produces flavored water vapor. However, vaping also delivers nicotine into your body which can change the way you think, feel, and act. Nicotine is an addictive drug found in tobacco leaves and is highly concentrated in vape liquid. When someone vapes, it takes just a few seconds for nicotine to reach the brain and cause short-lived feelings of relaxation. The brain makes a connection to those good feelings making it more likely to take another hit. These repeated behaviors can lead to an addiction to nicotine which can cause symptoms including having cravings to vape, having a hard time concentrating because you want to vape, feeling irritable, nervous, or restless when you can’t vape, and not being able to reduce vaping even if you want to. 


  • Project filter: Quit smoking and vaping now! Learn more here.

  • Check out your local health department for Tobacco Cessation classes. 

  • If you are a teen and think you might be addicted to vaping or want to quit before you become addicted, get help now by texting “Start My Quit” to 36072 or visit My Life, My Quit for more information!

  • Understand Your Vaping Triggers

Reduce Exposure to Unhealthy Air

According to the National Institutes of Health, higher levels of a type of air pollution called PM2.5 (from agriculture and wildfires) were linked to a higher number of dementia cases developing over time. Reducing such exposures might help lower the incidence of dementia.

You can reduce your exposure on high air pollution days by staying indoors, reducing outdoor air infiltration to indoors, cleaning indoor air with air filters, and limiting outdoor physical exercise.


Stay Engaged and Connected

Spending time with others, engaging in stimulating conversation, and staying in touch and connected with family and friends are good for your brain health. Studies have shown those with the most social interaction in their community experience the slowest rate of memory decline.

From the Global Council on Brain Health, to promote meaningful social engagement:

  1. Focus on the relationships or social activities you enjoy the most.

  2. If you have no one around who can help you engage socially, turn to professionals who can assist (e.g., telephone hotlines, drop-in centers, a chat with a local religious leader, etc).

  3. If you feel lonely, you can try to change this by making a new connection or by seeking different opportunities to engage with others.

  4. If there are barriers to interacting with people (e.g., difficulty getting around, unsafe neighborhood), see if you can identify someone you could ask for help, and let someone assist you in making connections.

  5. Try to keep a circle of friends, family, or neighbors with whom you can exchange ideas, thoughts, concerns, and practical matters, and who can also help or encourage you. It does not need to be a large group of people as long as those in it are important to you and you are important to them. Try to have at least one trustworthy and reliable confidante to communicate with routinely (e.g., weekly), someone you feel you can trust, and count on.

  6. If you are married, this can benefit your cognitive health, but you should consider fostering other important relationships. Individuals who have never married or are divorced or widowed often have many other connections that provide support.  

  7. Try to speak now and then (e.g. monthly) with relatives, friends, and/or neighbors; communicate in person, or by phone, email, or other means.

  8. Help others, whether informally or through organizations or volunteer opportunities. For example, visit a lonely neighbor or friend, shop for/with them, or try cooking together.

  9. Maintain social connections with people of different ages, including younger people. Keep in touch with grandchildren or volunteer to help people at a local school or community center. Think about the skills you have and use routinely that might be valuable to pass on to others. Offer to help teach a younger person skills you may already have, such as cooking, organizing an event, assembling furniture, saving for the future, investing in the stock market, etc.

  10. Add a new relationship or social activity you didn’t try before. Place yourself in everyday contexts where you can meet and interact with others (e.g., stores or parks).

  11. Be active and challenge yourself to try out organized clubs, courses, interest groups, political organizations, religious gatherings, or cooking classes.

  12. If you are already socially active, diversify your activities. Consider joining or starting a group which doesn’t exist in your community and is centered around a common interest (e.g., a workout group).


  • Are you curious about how to build meaningful relationships in today's fast-paced, technology-driven world? Check out this article.

Stay Physically Active

Regular physical activity has many benefits for overall health, including lowering your risk of memory loss and confusion. Being physically active can help you:

  • Think better.

  • Improve your sleep quality and help you to fall asleep faster.

  • Improve your feelings of well-being.

  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  • Lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of activity to get your heart pumping, like walking briskly or dancing, and aim for at least two days a week of activity to build muscle, like gardening or using exercise bands!


Weight Management

Being overweight or obese has been linked to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight includes healthy eating, physical activity, optimal sleep, and stress reduction. Age, genetics, diseases, medications, and environments may also contribute to weight gain. Managing your weight contributes to good health now and as you age. 


Additional Definitions

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?

Some adults have more memory or thinking problems than other adults their age. This condition is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). There is no single cause of MCI. The risk of developing MCI increases as someone gets older, but someone young can experience MCI as well. Conditions such as diabetes, depression, and stroke may increase a person’s risk for MCI. The symptoms of MCI are not as severe as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and some conditions that may contribute to MCI may be reversible. Not all MCI diagnoses will become dementia.

Learn more about MCI by reviewing the Alzheimer's Association's More than Normal Aging: Understanding Mild Cognitive Impairment special report.

What is Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD)?

Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD) is the self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss. It is a form of cognitive impairment and one of the earliest noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. SCD can have implications for living with and managing chronic disease or performing everyday activities like cooking or cleaning. Because SCD is self-reported, it does not imply a diagnosis of cognitive decline by a healthcare professional.


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Idaho Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) Program
Tiffany Robb, ADRD Program Manager
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Alzheimer's disease and related dementias