What Women In Their 20s & 30s Need To Know About Their Brain Health

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum.
In the past few years, we've made significant strides when it comes to decreasing the taboo surrounding mental health. But when it comes to talking about brain health — including Alzheimer's and dementia — societal stigma still unfortunately exists.
This is one of the reasons why actor and writer Lauren Miller Rogen started Hilarity for Charity, an organization aimed at educating millennials about Alzheimer's disease, with her husband Seth Rogen. "We, as a society, have a fear of death — of course we do," she tells Refinery29. "It’s a very human thing to think about, and to be afraid of what happens after. So, diseases that are 'typically' associated with aging are seen as scary."
If you're a millennial, you might not give any thought to Alzheimer's. But Miller Rogen knows firsthand that Alzheimer's doesn't just affect "old wrinkly women," she says. Her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 15 years ago at the age of 55. "When my mom was diagnosed, brain health was in a completely different space," she recalls. From a research perspective, brain health and Alzheimer's prevention was considered unchartered territory. "I was very aware of brain disease, but unaware of how to prevent brain disease," she adds. So, she started exploring the lifestyle changes that we know can reduce a person's risk.
To provide more brain health education for young adults, Hilarity for Charity has also collaborated with NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine to create online Alzheimer's prevention courses (some of which are narrated by Seth) so people can learn how to build an "Alzheimer's-resistant brain." Miller Rogen hopes that talking about Alzheimer's will lead people who are affected by the disease and related dementias to feel empowered. "We don't have to be scared, because we’re taking control of the things that scare us," she says. "That's a very powerful thing."
Ahead are a few behaviors and habits that we know are associated with a decreased likelihood of developing Alzheimer's.

Know your family history.

Genetics and family history are hugely important in understanding a person's Alzheimer's risk. We know that people who have a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with Alzheimer's are more likely to develop it than those who don't. There's two types of genes that can influence your risk of developing Alzheimers; one increases your risk, while the other directly causes the disease. With the popularity of at-home home genetic tests, more people are learning about their genetic makeup and how it influences their health. It's important to speak with a doctor or genetic counselor who can help you interpret the results and figure out what the appropriate steps are for you based on your health history.

Make exercise a habit.

Staying active doesn't just help reduce stress and improve your sleep quality, it also can help your brain. Exercising a few times a week may decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, because it increases the flow of oxygen and blood to your brain, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Diets that are suggested for heart health, such as the Mediterranean diet, are also shown to have some brain-protecting effects, too.

Stop smoking.

Nowadays, many people use e-cigs or vapes without fully understanding the long-term consequences. While research on the health effects of vaping isn't fully understood yet, we know that smoking cigarettes has been associated with faster cognitive decline compared to people who don't smoke. On the flip side, quitting smoking has been shown to reduce people's risk.

Get some sleep.

Getting consistent, good-quality sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your brain. Studies show that when you're sleep-deprived, a protein can build up in your brain that's associated with Alzheimer's. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night, so don't skimp on it.

More from Mind

R29 Original Series