Neurological disorders encompass a broad range of diseases that impact the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system. The brain is the center of all neurological processing activity and there are more than 600 diseases that affect the nervous system. The disorders may be in the form of brain tumors, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, or stokes. How do we keep our nervous system in good working order? Why should we think that is important? When something goes wrong with any part of our nervous system, we can have trouble speaking, breathing, moving, and swallowing as well as trouble with memory, mood, and senses.
Typical Neurological Symptoms that can indicate a Neurological Disorder
- Burning feeling
- Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
- Involuntary muscle contractions, called “Dystonia
- Muscle weakness
- Pain from an origin that does not usually cause pain or that follows the course of a specific nerve
- Paralysis or inability to move a body part
- Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
Types of Neurological Disorders
Genetic - Diseases caused by faulty genes, such as Huntington's disease and muscular dystrophy
Developmental - Problems with the way the nervous system develops, such as spina bifida
Degenerative - Diseases that occur when nerve cells are damaged or die, such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease
Secondary Damage from Cardiovascular or Cancer or Infection - Diseases of the blood vessels that supply the brain, such as stroke; brain tumors, or infections like meningitis
Injuries - either to the spinal cord and brain
Seizure Disorders - such as epilepsy
Auto-Immune Disorders – Such as Gullian Barre Syndrome
When to Seek Immediate Help
In some cases, neurological symptoms may be life threatening and should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
- Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, choking
- Sudden paralysis or inability to move a body part
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Common Neurological Disorders in Elderly People
Restless Leg Syndrome
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
How to Keep Your Neurological System in Good Working Order
It turns out that things that are good for your “nerves” are also usually good for your heart and other body systems.
- Get enough Rest –being well rested is so good for us and yet, in our culture, we tend to ignore this basic need. Aim for at least 7 hours of good sleep. Some people function better with more or slightly less. Dealing with sleep problems can take time, but some things can be done to improve sleep.
- Eat Well – Nutrition plays a big role in our health overall. For our brains and nervous system, we need foods rich in B-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, Magnesium, and Iron. Here is a list of good foods to include in a balanced diet:
- Fish – halibut and salmon especially
- Organ meats - liver
- Legumes – kidney beans, lentils, soybeans
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Low fat Milk, yogurt
- Whole Grains – quinoa, oatmeal, fortified cereals
- Vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes
- Daily Time outside in the sun and fortified milk for vitamin D
- Look for healthy recipes for seniors
- Reduce Stress - Old timers may remember talking about things being good for our “nerves.” It is true that stress can tax our nervous system. Things like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and massage can keep our neurological system in good working order
- Exercise – Physical exercise is always a good thing. If you can walk, you can exercise enough! A simple 20-30 minute daily walk can do wonders. Finding an exercise partner can improve your chances of sticking to a routine.
- Exercise the Brain. Keeping our brains active can help us maintain connections and improve memory and flexibility. This is especially important as we age. Learning new things, seeing new places, doing puzzles, solving problems, doing new tasks, etc. can all keep us sharp. In addition, researchers have shown that the simple act of writing on paper works the neurological system well. For fifteen minutes a day, writing on paper – or even drawing on paper exercises several mental and physical processes.
Dementia and Malnutrition