Caring for the Caregiver: Reducing Alzheimer's RiskHas your life been touched by Alzheimer’s? If so, the experience has no doubt left an indelible mark on your heart and an enormous weight on your mind. When you’ve witnessed a loved one slipping away slowly and painfully, the mere thought of one day receiving the diagnosis yourself is terrifying.  In fact, there are very few things more frightening.

Good News and Bad News

Although living in fear is impractical and unhealthy, it’s impossible not to feel a twinge of panic when, during a conversation, you lose your train of thought or can’t come up with the word you’re looking for. The good news is research tells us there are some things we can do to reduce our risk.

The bad news is, most caregivers worry about taking care of everyone else at the high price of neglecting themselves and their own health. But, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are four important, relatively simple steps that can be taken to reduce risk of developing the disease.

Four Steps

  • Stay physically active.

How?  Studies suggest that 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times per week can reduce risk significantly. Aerobic exercise improves oxygen consumption, making it beneficial to brain function. In fact, studies have shown that aerobic exercise may actually reduce brain cell loss in elderly subjects. For a good aerobic workout, think walking, swimming, bicycling, or yoga. Even gardening qualifies if it gets your heart pumping!

  • Maintain a brain healthy diet

How?  Reduce intake of bad cholesterol (LDL) and saturated fats. Trade them in for foods packed with vitamins C and E, other antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Great choices include:
-Cold water fish like halibut, mackerel, salmon, trout and tuna.
-Healthy nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, and raw sunflower, pumpkin, or flax seeds.
-Broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, avocados, tomatoes, and lentils.
-Blueberries, raisins, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, plums, oranges, red grapes, grapefruit, and cherries

  •  Remain socially active

How? Travel, maintain close personal relationships, stay active in the workplace or through volunteer activities, join a special interest or social club, or take an exercise class and get even more “bang for your buck!”

  •  Remain mentally and intellectually active

How? Read, work crossword puzzles, play games, make a commitment to lifelong learning, take a class at the local community center or college, tutor or mentor a child in need, attend cultural events, keep up on the latest Alzheimer’s research!

Keep in mind that combining physical, mental, and social activity with a brain-healthy diet will boost the benefit, but the important thing is that you begin taking steps in the right direction! Also remember to get enough sleep, reduce stress whenever possible, and maintain a sense of self and life purpose.

Start Slowly

If you’re a caregiver, I imagine you’re thinking this sounds like a tall order. I’ve been there; I know how difficult it is, and I did neglect my health. Whether you’re caring for a loved one at home or shouldering the responsibility of overseeing their care in a facility, at the end of the day, you’re probably some combination of exhausted, drained, stressed, or depressed. But the old adage holds true: Unless you take care of yourself, you won’t be much good to anyone else!

Try to gradually incorporate some of the suggestions mentioned above into your routine. Not only will these things help to stave off Alzheimer’s and related dementias, they really will contribute to your overall well being.

4 Comments

  1. Ella

    Thank you so much for remembering us caregivers, Ann. Reminding us the importance of taking care of ourselves. I know how life changing this disease has been for my brother, for all of us. Watching changes, sad. New responsibilities, exhausting. Making modifications, when needed, to keep everyone healthy and safe, challenging. I know it is frustrating, depressing for him; me as well. He remembers his carefree and fun life. As he told me early on, “Living.” I recall his independent and can do anything personality, it’s still kicking. He reminds me he could manage alone, believing all would return to the old versus the new normal for him/us. It would be nice.

    That being said, I know the importance of taking care of me without any guilt and I strive to follow thru. I am learning that certain things can wait, a nap won’t, 15 minutes going to the 1/2 hour easily. Rest I must and I do. A bad day or moment for him can alter mine just as quick, I have improved on managing and coping. Educating and guidance is crucial, I can never learn enough. I have realized the importance of focusing my mind on something else for awhile and to challenge myself in any capacity feels good. To say good-bye to my old career days filled with pressure and stress seemed to just happen, it’s ok. I try and laugh more, to remember happy memories versus sad ones. In this whole scheme of things I seem to get what’s important these days, more than ever, and find myself looking at things quite differently.

    I thank you again for caring for us care-givers. Your writing, like so many others, are touching, wonderful. I know they help me remind myself what’s important, along with staying strong and focused. There may not be an abundance of thank yous and hugs these days, it’s no one’s fault. I will look forward to them and not forget the importance of giving and receiving, seeking the right moment. I will cherish kindness, deeds or words and good days or moments. A believer in prayers and faith I will always be. God Bless All Caregivers!

  2. Ann Napoletan

    You’re such a beautiful person, Ella, and you and your brother are fortunate to have each other. Attitude is everything, and it sounds like you live and breathe positivity each day. There is little more important than maintaining a healthy, upbeat attitude… no one can do this all the time, but even the awareness of one’s own attitude is critically important. Allow yourself that bad day now and again, and then remind yourself of all of life’s blessings. Stay strong and faithful. Blessings, ~Ann

  3. Ella

    Ann, thank you for your kind words. My “venting” via my writing, is 1 of my stress relievers. I do appreciate you reminding me that it’s ok for me to have a bad day, I do. I can find myself feeling depressed, which brings on the doom and gloom, creating a lazy streak, no motivation to do”stuff” that is waiting, it seems just for me. I may then feel overwhelmed, questioning how many really understand, unless they are in the same shoes, how challenging a caregiving role is, mentally and physically. It’s not wrong to give ourselves a pat on the back is it? To take a day to shop till we drop, for whatever? We do have to remind ourselves to take care of us, so I must and try to, minus guilt feelings, hopefully. I do appreciate you, feel you “get it.” Your writings are exemplary, your advisement and counsel so helpful. I hope each day is getting better for you. God Bless You.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>