Your Brain on COPD

By Marygrace Taylor

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition that foremost affects the lungs. But it also could affect the brain, according to a recent study.

Adults with COPD have an 83 percent increased risk for developing nonamnestic mild cognitive impairment, according to research published in the journal JAMA Neurology. This type of cognitive impairment doesn’t affect memory; however, it can affect other thinking skills including visual perception, the ability to make sound decisions and the ability complete complex tasks. Although the changes aren’t serious enough to interfere with daily life, they may be noticeable to you and those around you.

This isn’t the first study to suggest a relationship between COPD and brain health, and experts still can’t say for sure how the two are connected. COPD could cause higher levels of brain-harming inflammation, or COPD could cause less oxygen to reach the brain. Either way, it’s important for COPD patients and their caregivers to watch for signs of cognitive decline, such as having trouble working with numbers (following a familiar recipe or balancing a checkbook, for example) or difficulty reading.

What’s more, there are several ways to help keep your brain healthy. Here are five recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association:

  1. Stop smoking. If you have COPD, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this advice. In addition to improving your lung function and helping you breathe easier, ditching cigarettes also can help you maintain a healthy brain.
  2. Stay active. Exercise can boost blood flow to your brain, which can help maintain cognitive function. Equally good? It can help minimize COPD flareups, too.
  3. Eat Mediterranean. Make fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish and heart-healthy fats mainstays of your diet, and limit your consumption of red meat. Research suggests a Mediterranean-style diet may be healthiest for your brain.
  4. Stay stimulated. Like your body, your brain needs exercise to stay in shape. Do things that keep your brain active, such as reading and writing, completing puzzles and word games and learning new skills or hobbies.
  5. Keep your numbers in check. Maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels within healthy range all play a role in protecting your brain.