COVID-19 Brain Health Resource Guide

While some businesses and public spaces have re-opened, we want to remind you that COVID-19 is still in our communities. We urge you to follow Wisconsin Department of Health Services and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in response to this public health threat. Guidelines include the following:

Brain Health Resources for People Staying Close to Home

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our everyday lives, and many people are choosing to stay close to home in order to limit their exposure to the virus. While that might mean giving up regular trips to the gym or in-person visits with friends and family, it doesn't mean completely giving up activities that support your brain health. The following list of resources provided in six lifestyle categories will help you build your brain health at home. Many of these resources are from the UW-Madison community or groups and organizations from around the state.

Incorporate physical activity into your day

Get Movin’ — A free exercise series sponsored by the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and African Americans Fighting Alzheimer’s Disease in Mid-Life (AAFAiM). Classes are led by personal trainer Venus Washington, owner of Venus Inspires. You can join classes from home through Facebook or YouTube. Classes are held live at their designated times, or you can watch archived episodes.

Go4Life — An exercise program sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, it offers a variety of resources and videos designed to help you fit exercise and activity into your daily life.

Quick Fit With Cassy — A digital exercise series from PBS Wisconsin. Led by Cassy Vieth, a professional fitness trainer and instructor from Spring Green, Wisconsin, Quick Fit focuses on gentle, zero-impact stretching and strengthening performed in short workouts of 10 minutes or less. All you need is a sturdy chair and a shared belief that life is movement.

Tracking walks with fitness apps — It can be difficult to find motivation to exercise without having someone to cheer you on. But with a smartphone, there are apps that have built-in incentives and coaching that help you achieve attainable goals. Apps like Runtastic and MapMyRide can track exercises like walking, golfing, hiking, cycling, and more, while displaying your progress over time.

Want to learn more about the brain health benefits of physical activity? Recent research from the Okonkwo lab shows exercise is linked to enhanced brain function in adults at risk for Alzheimer's diseaseOzioma Okonkwo, PhD, discussed a range of exercise-brain health research in the "Dementia Matters" podcast episode "Impacts of Exercise on Brain Health."

Adopt healthy sleep habits

Sleep is essential to healthy living. Barbara Bendlin, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, published a study that found people who reported more sleepiness during the day and not feeling rested after a night of sleep showed more brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists are still trying to figure out if poor sleep causes Alzheimer’s disease-related brain changes, or if the brain changes cause sleep disturbance. But it is clear there is a connection. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, prioritize sleep, and start a relaxing evening routine that includes dim lights (but not smartphones, TVs, or other screens) and peaceful thoughts.

Can a lack of sleep lead to dementia or Alzheimer’s? "Sleep and the Alzheimer's Connection" is an article from UW Health that looks at why sleep is so important to health.

Learn from a sleep scientist how to achieve healthy sleep, and why sleep is vital for a healthy brain. Kate Sprecher, PhD, shares what the scientific community knows about the connections between sleep apnea and brain health, and offers tips for healthy sleep, in the "Dementia Matters" podcast episode "The Science of Sleep and Brain Health."'

While the amount of sleep you get is important for the brain, it is also essential to practice healthy sleep habits. Practicing good “sleep hygiene” helps to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Bendlin Bendlin, PhD, shared some sleep hygiene tips on Carol Koby’s radio show “All About Living” in 2017.

Eat a healthy diet

The MIND Diet — The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet was developed from a wealth of research that stressed the importance of supporting the brain with a healthy diet. The diet highlights 10 food groups to incorporate into your weekly meals, and five foods to limit. A study of nearly 1,000 people who followed the MIND diet found those who closely followed the diet reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 53 percent. People who loosely followed the diet still saw results, reducing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 35 percent. View a printable PDF of the MIND diet guidelines, or listen to the "Dementia Matters" podcast episode "MIND Diet for Healthy Brain Aging" with MIND diet creator Dr. Martha Clare Morris.

UW Health Learning Kitchen recipes — A list of gourmet recipes that support a healthy lifestyle.

Recipes to boost gut health — We know through recent neuroscience research that there is a connection between the gut microbiome and brain health. Food Network Canada has a list of 15 flavorful recipes that boost gut health.

Virtual Cooking Classes — Looking for online cooking classes? The Badger Rock Neighborhood Center posts online classes with delicious recipes every week. Videos are shared on their Facebook page.

Reduce stress and find coping strategies

UW Department of Psychiatry Mental Health — The UW Department of Psychiatry has compiled a curated collection of resources from a variety of sources to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The section on COVID-19 General Stress and Coping Tools offers a collection of excellent resources for evidence-based self-care and coping strategies.

Center for Healthy Minds COVID-19 Well-Being Toolkit and Resources — The Center for Healthy Minds at UW-Madison created a toolkit with a list of resources to support well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers meditation classes in English and Spanish and tips for well-being.

UHS Guided Meditation — University Health Services has created a series of guided relaxation audio episodes on Spotify, and anyone with a free account can listen. 

UW Health Mindfulness Guided Practices — UW Health offers an array of free guided mindfulness and meditation practices offered to support the home practice of meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi. If you have any medical or orthopedic concerns, please consult your physician or physical therapist before engaging in the movement practices.

Calm App — The Calm smartphone app is all about guided meditation and relaxation, with audio sessions focused on improving sleep, reducing stress, and sharpening the mind. 

UHS Yoga with Jamie — Yoga is a mind-body practice that helps reduce stress with gentle, controlled body movements. UHS has compiled a resource list of different yoga types, from gentle movements to strength-building exercises. There are two videos on the site you can watch and practice from home. 

Keep your mind active

Learning new things is cognitively stimulating, and studies have shown cognitively stimulating activities can help people maintain and even improve memory and thinking skills. Learning a new activity, such as learning a new language, learning an instrument, or teaching yourself a new craft, are kinds of learning that are mentally stimulating and engaging. The Internet offers a multitude of options for this kind of learning at home. For example, you can learn how to knit in a free series of video classes from Instructables, request free knitting supplies from Fibre Forward, and sign up for a free account at Ravelry where you will find thousands of free knitting patterns and project ideas.

Kimberly Mueller, PhD, CCC-SLP, joined Nathaniel Chin, MD, on the "Dementia Matters" podcast to discuss stimulating activity for brain health. Read or listen to the episode "Exercise Your Mind: Cognitively Stimulating Activities and Social Engagement."

Healthy Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment is a quarterly class that offers patients and families support, guidance, and science-backed strategies for living with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Watch a YouTube video of the class "Cognitive and Social Engagement" from December 2019, in which Kimberly Mueller, PhD, CCC-SLP, explains the science of cognitively engaging activities and shares recent studies from her work. She also shares some activities you can do to help keep your brain active.

Virtual Museum Tours — If you are missing a connection to the arts, you can explore thousands of museums online. It will help you learn something new and keep your mind active. This article has selected some of the most popular destinations like the Louvre in Paris, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Free & Discounted Online Education Resources for Seniors & Lifelong Learners — Have you ever wanted to go back to school to sharpen your skills or learn something new? View a state-by-state report of free and discounted tuition options at traditional institutions or online institutions from SeniorLiving.org.

Engage in social activity

Maintaining relationships during a pandemic can be difficult, but it is essential to keep in contact with friends and loved ones as we follow physical distancing recommendations. 

Video Chats — Phone calls and emails are great ways to stay connected, but there are also digital methods to meet face-to-face. With Apple devices, FaceTime allows for quick and easy video chats with others. Skype is free to download on PCs, Macs, and mobile devices, and allows for video calls as well. Facebook Messenger is another free option you can use to video chat with friends and family, one-on-one or in a group.

Tabletop Games — Want to play tabletop games with your friends or family? PlayingCards.io has free tabletop games that can be played remotely, including Euchre, Cribbage, and Checkers. Just choose your game, share the game link, and start playing. 

Skribbl.io — The idea of skribbl is simple: one person knows the secret word and must draw it, while everyone else tries to guess the word as fast as possible. An interactive game for all ages, it can be played online on most devices at skribbl.io.

Citizen Science — The UW Arboretum has a wealth of citizen science opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. From tracking bird migrations to bumble monitoring and conservation, there are plenty of options to get out in nature and deepen your scientific knowledge. Do these activities on your own, or team up with a family member or friend while maintaining your six feet of physical distancing outside.

Caregiver and Support Resources

The Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute created a list of COVID-19 Resources for Caregivers.

The Wisconsin ADRC's "Dementia Matters" podcast in running an eight-episode COVID-19 Special Series that addresses topics to help support caregivers during the pandemic. You can listen to episodes online, or find "Dementia Matters" on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The National Institute on Aging offers a list of Government COVID-19 Resources for Older Adults. It includes information on financial, health, safety, and employment resources, as well as information for Veterans.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Resources