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The Rider’s Brain – Keeping it Healthy at the Ann Romney Center

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Text by Heather Buchanan

Some of the leading researchers in the field of neurology shared the latest in brain health at the Lunch & Learn series at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. Katherine Kaneb Bellissimo was proud to introduce Ann Romney whose Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases is a leading clinical, scientific and academic powerhouse for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Parkinson’s disease and brain tumors. Almost everyone knows someone touched by these diseases.

A dressage rider, Romney herself was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. She said, “When I got the diagnosis I had to ask what do I really love, and it was horses. I hadn’t ridden since I was 16. I thought I’d better get back on a horse before it’s too late. Horses gave me energy when I was weak and joy, and they made me feel like I could go on. With the combination of medicine and horses who were my healing partners, I think life is wonderful again.”

After her husband Mitt Romney lost the presidential election, Ann said they decided to create the center. “We can still make a huge difference,” she said.

Dr. Howard L. Weiner and Dr. Dennis J. Selkoe, Co-Directors of the Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston shared pioneering research across the different diseases and glimmers of hope, especially a nasal vaccine for Alzheimer’s. Dr. Weiner added, “What we can learn from one disease we can apply to another.”

Dr. Selkoe, also a rider, said the number one way to keep a healthy brain is to avoid head injury and stressed the importance of proper riding helmets. They are continuing research on a nasal spray which can be used just after a concussion which creates an immune response that reduces inflammation in the brain. They stressed the importance of monitoring any injuries to the head, especially as an exposed risk over time for career riders.

Selkoe also discussed new research to keep a healthy brain, “Understanding new concepts or learning about something that is unfamiliar is good to prevent brain deterioration. It’s good to stretch our minds and have a rich, novel environment.”

There is also a “gut feeling” in research, looking at the connection between microorganisms that live in the intestine and MS and Parkinson’s brain inflammation. Thus, diet is also connected to brain health and the importance of nutrition. The Dr.’s pointed to the Mediterranean diet, “It’s good for protecting people over the long term, part of a good lifestyle to keep the brain healthy.” Happy day for those enjoy a glass of red wine.

The innovative Lunch & Learn series continues at the Winter Equestrian Festival through March 30th –

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