Alzheimer’s and dementia are a big health topic, especially among baby boomers. Statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association show that 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s. Even scarier to think about, a person in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds.
I’m familiar with the emotional challenges of watching someone you love develop this disease.
My grandmother, Lallie Parker, died from complications with Alzheimer’s. It was difficult to watch as she slowly diminished from the world, eventually becoming bedridden and non-verbal.
I’m so grateful for her wonderful children who were able to keep her in her home and care for her as she endured this illness… what a blessing! But I know not everyone is able to do that, especially when the disease makes the person unmanageable.
If there are things we can do to prevent or delay losing our brain power, shouldn’t we be doing that?
I want to offer a few ideas for taking care of our “sustainable brain”—no matter your age!
There are new websites with brain games like luminosity, apps with sudoku, duolingo to learn a new language.
Just like our bodies need to get moving to stay in shape, our brains need to be “exercised,” too!
A study found that “cognitive training programs”—exercises designed to engage various parts of the brain, like memory or reasoning skills—help keep the cognitive functions of the brain in ship-shape form, important in both Alzheimer’s risk reduction and overall quality of life as we age and seek to remain independent.
There are so many games out there to engage your brain, with websites like Luminosity that host a collection of mind games, the ever-popular Sudoku, or apps like Duolingo, which helps you learn a new language!
Tapping into those left brain activities—like painting, crafting, or drawing—can help keep your brain in tip-top form, too. A study quoted in this CNN article found that participants who engaged in artistic activities were less likely to develop cognitive issues.
One of my favorite activities is painting—I meet up with an art group every week, and it’s one of the best parts of my week to be able to support and create with one another. If you want to pursue a creative hobby but don’t know where to start, I highly recommend finding a class or group to meet up with!
Learning to play music is another creative activity to keep your mind active. One article from the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinsonism stresses the positive effects on the brain that professional musicians experience. The article points out that these musicians show activity in multiple areas of the brain while playing or listening to music, which maintains the neuroplasticity—aka your brain’s ability to adapt.
Creativity can be pursued through several different avenues and will keep your brain razor-sharp! You just have to find the creative activity that makes you happy.
Research shows that what you eat can affect your brain—in a big way. One particular study found that those who stuck to the “MIND” diet (a diet very similar to the Mediterannean diet) reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 53%.
Turns out that eating the right foods can keep your waist slim AND your mind sharp, too!
The MIND diet encourages loading up on these good-for-you foods:
- Vegetables (including green leafy veggies)
- Whole Grains
- Olive Oil
- Wine (That’s a recommendation we can get behind! Want to learn how to make your own? Join us for our wine-making class at Stoney Creek Farm on November 23, 2019!)
The MIND diet also recommends minimizing your intake of the following foods:
- Red meat
- Butter & margarine
- Fried food
Another reason to take seriously your mama’s advice to eat your greens—to keep your brain healthy!
Probably the most important—and hardest for me—activity to prevent dementia is EXERCISE. The Alzheimer’s Association states that exercise can decrease your dementia risk by 50 percent! Why is it that the hardest activities to maintain are always the ones with the best benefit?
According to the popular Health Guide people should:
“Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. The ideal plan involves a combination of cardio exercise and strength training. Good activities for beginners include walking and swimming.
Build muscle to pump up your brain. Moderate levels of weight and resistance training not only increase muscle mass, they help you maintain brain health. For those over 65, adding 2-3 strength sessions to your weekly routine may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half.
Include balance and coordination exercises. Head injuries from falls are an increasing risk as you age, which in turn increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Balance and coordination exercises can help you stay agile and avoid spills. Try yoga, Tai Chi, or exercises using balance balls.”
While there’s no known way to 100% keep us safe from the awful effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s, there are still steps we can take to help keep our “sustainable brain” healthy and happy!