Has 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.
- 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.
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.