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HeadWay, Issue #123 -- Fight back: Get Interested
October 21, 2014

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In this issue:

Fight Back - Get Interested

Say what?!  Brain lesions

Fight Back - Get Interested

A small study from the Hospital de Galdakao-Usansolo in Spain is raising questions once again about the link between Alzheimer's and headaches.  Could an emerging Alzheimer's theory be another key to fighting chronic migraine?

25 years ago, the study of Alzheimer's took an unexpected turn.  Researchers began to realize that there was not always a clear biological reason why one patient suffered from worse Alzheimer's symptoms than another.  It was theorized that the brain somehow protected itself against the disease - but how?  Did some people simply have brains that were "built better" and so were able to counter-act damage?  Or could it be that factors like a good education could actually improve the brain's ability to fight back?

Enter the theory of "cognitive reserve".

This area of study is very complex, but we can fairly simplify it this way.  Healthy, well-exercised brains seem to be better prepared to fight disease.  And that means that there are things you can do to protect yourself.  (See What is cognitive reserve? for an older but in-depth technical discussion.)

The study in Spain, published this month, looked at certain issues that migraine patients deal with and compared them to their "cognitive reserve" (CR).  The study did seem to suggest that, at the very least, those with a higher CR suffered less from depression and anxiety, possibly were less prone to dependence on medication, and in general had a higher quality of life.

The link between Alzheimer's and migraine is not clear but has been discussed, because there are certain similarities, such as damage to the brain and comorbid conditions.  Although this study was not aimed to prove a link, it does show that CR, a common discussion in Alzheimer's, may also help fight migraine and other headache disorders.

So whether you have a disease like migraine or Alzheimer's already, or you want to protect yourself for the future, building up your CR may be one of your best strategies.

Protect Your Brain.

And how do you do that?

Two words.  Get Interested.

Get interested in life.  Get interested in the details, in the variety, in the world around you, in the people you meet.

If you feel like you're always doing the same thing, never learning anything new, never getting out of the house ... well, you're not building any CR.

For those with busy lives (think long work hours or young kids) or those with chronic migraine (think "I'm just trying to survive!"), this may seem overwhelming already.  But it really doesn't have to be.

Small changes can lead to big rewards.  Get interested in something new (listen to a new podcast, watch an educational video on YouTube, read a book).  Or, learn more about what you're already doing (ever hear the story of Harlan A. Howard?).

Next time you have a day off, do something you don't usually do.  And take someone along that you don't usually take along.

Ask someone one question and learn something about that person.

Yes, these ideas do have real science behind them.  Small changes can be incredibly powerful.

Find some light exercise that's interesting - walk somewhere you don't usually walk.  Listen to the sounds, smell the smells, take a picture, talk to someone new.

You don't have to do all of this all at once - just think about exercising your mind and body a little bit more than normal by getting interested in something or someone.  Stretch.  Get interested.

In his article Maintaining a Cognitive Reserve, Dr. David Williams suggests other things that headache patients will be familiar with - be cautious of medications, eat fish, and consider coenzyme Q10 supplements.

For some more interesting ideas, check out Can you delay dementia?, which has a lot of citations of scientific sources you can investigate.

Meanwhile, pick just one of these things on the list and try it in the next week.  A little brain exercise might fight symptoms more than you expect.
  • Plan on your next day off/vacation/holiday to go somewhere quite different.
  • Commit to memorizing something - a Bible passage, Shakespeare, cooking ratios, capital cities.
  • Get an account at Duolingo and start learning a new language.
  • Go for coffee with someone you haven't seen for a while.
  • Go for a walk once or twice a week, but take different streets/paths each time.
  • Do something that scares you.
  • Read a new book.
  • Take a course.  Even a free online course.
  • Try games at Luminosity.
  • Learn to play an instrument, or learn some new dance steps.
  • Call your Mom.
Get interested.  That's it.

Say what?!  Brain lesions

Brain lesions may play a role in both migraine and Alzheimer's.  Brain lesions are areas of damage in the brain tissue, which could be the result of injury or disease, or even the cause of certain symptoms.  Many brain lesions are fairly common and cause no symptoms at all.

There are many different types of brain lesions, in many different diseases, including multiple sclerosis and migraine.

Some of the symptoms of brain lesions may be lessened in patients with a good cognitive reserve.

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
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