Be Brain Healthy this National Brain Awareness Week

By Seán Haughney Stroke News   |   14th Mar 2024

This week is National Brain Awareness Week. A stroke is a brain attack and is the biggest cause of acquired disability in Ireland. Stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot. This causes an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain, which can damage or destroy brain cells.

The brain is nourished by one of the body’s richest networks of blood vessels. With every beat, the heart pumps 20 to 25 percent of the blood to the head, where brain cells use at least 20 percent of the food and oxygen carried by the blood in order to function normally.

Some forms of dementia can be caused by damage to the blood vessels supplying oxygen to the brain possibly causing a stroke or other damage to the brain fibres in the white matter of the brain.

The Dementia: Understand Together campaign, led by the HSE in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Age Friendly Ireland, Age & Opportunity, Healthy Ireland and the Dementia Services Information and Development Centre is encouraging everyone to make simple changes to help maintain brain health and reduce the risk of developing some types of dementia.

Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities. In people who have dementia, the symptoms interfere with their daily lives. Dementia isn’t one specific disease. Several diseases can cause dementia.

Proactive steps people can take to help improve brain health and prevent a stroke include:

Adopting these habits in adulthood can play an important part in reducing risk, as well as developing good routines for life.

"We can't do anything about aging, which is a major risk factor for developing dementia but it's very important to reduce any other risk factors that might either lead to dementia or exacerbate it."

Dr Angie Brown, Consultant Cardiologist and Medical Director, Irish Heart Foundation

Research has found that people following a healthy lifestyle lowered their risk. A diet that includes fish, fruits, vegetables, and oils is important. While no specific diet is known to reduce dementia risk, research indicates that those who follow a Mediterranean style diet rich in whole grains, nuts and seeds have better cognitive function. Low levels of certain vitamins and nutrients. Low levels of vitamin D, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate can increase the risk of dementia. another reason to have a well-balanced diet.

Regular exercise and participating in social activities are also beneficial for brain health. Drinking large amounts of alcohol is known to cause brain changes. Several large studies and reviews found that alcohol use disorders were linked to an increased risk of dementia, particularly early-onset dementia. It is therefore important to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.

Cardiovascular risk factors also increase the risk of dementia. These include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the buildup of fats in the artery walls, known as atherosclerosis. Having diabetes can increase the risk of dementia, especially if it’s poorly controlled. Smoking increases the risk of atherosclerosis and blood vessel disease and increases the risk of developing dementia.

Air pollution is a further risk factor, particulates can speed degeneration of the nervous system and is associated with a greater dementia risk.

"Get a regular 'MOT' with your doctor to make sure your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are normal. Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake. If necessary, get the appropriate treatment for any risk factors. Regular exercise, a healthy diet and good sleeping patterns will also help reduce your risk."

Dr Angie Brown

Stroke can happen at any age. One third of strokes happen in people under sixty-five years of age. The good news is that by making small changes to your lifestyle and by taking medications for certain conditions as directed by your doctor, you can reduce your risk of stroke.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Act F.A.S.T. campaign raises awareness of the key signs of stroke and the importance of calling an ambulance as soon as possible.

F.A.S.T. stands for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time.

While the most common signs of stroke are those highlighted in the F.A.S.T. campaign, there are several other less common symptoms of stroke that can also occur.

There are many services available to stroke survivors at the Irish Heart Foundation, and these include:

The Irish Heart Foundation also has a Carers Support Network, so that those caring for people affected by heart and stroke conditions in Ireland can discuss and share their experiences and support each other.

We also have a Nurse Support Line is open 5 days a week; from 9am to 1pm Tuesday to Friday, and 9am to 5pm on Mondays. A nurse will be on hand to respond to any questions or concerns you may have about managing a heart condition or recovering from a stroke or heart disease.

This #NationalBrainAwarenessWeek, we encourage everyone to be brain and heart health aware. <3


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