How To Be Proactive About Your Brain Health
Three generations of my family have been afflicted with Alzheimer’s/Dementia. March 20th (today!) is three years since my sister passed from Frontal Temporal Dementia. My mom passed away from Dementia, one of my grandmothers passed from Alzheimer’s, and my other grandma was believed to have passed from Dementia. Based on family history, I thought for sure I was pre-determined to be afflicted with the same disease. That’s not necessarily the case.
There are genetic risk factors. Heart health, Parkinson’s, and head injury can also increase risk factors. The type of Dementia my sister had was barely known when she was diagnosed. In fact, it was frustratingly hard to figure out what was wrong. All but one doctor was stumped. Frontal Temporal Dementia makes up only 5% of the Dementia population. It starts ‘appearing’ as young as the age of 30. And because it’s relatively unknown, it robs you of your life. There is currently no cure for any form of Alzheimer/Dementia. Death is certain. The Alzheimer’s Association has a harrowing statistic: more than 5 million Americans are living with these diseases now. By 2050, it’s estimated that number could rise to 16 million Americans. Every 66 seconds someone in the United States develops the disease. Since 2000, heart disease deaths have gone down 14%. Deaths from Alzheimer’s/Dementia have increased 89%.
This information barely skims the surface on Alzheimer’s/Dementia. My intention in sharing this information is to honor my family in a way that will give back to others with hope that we can all live a purposeful life by being proactive with brain health.
A risk factor I did not mention earlier is: how we take care of ourselves. Our everyday living impacts our brains as it does our heart, kidneys, lungs and overall health. Since the problems of aging begin much earlier than they manifest, the time to take action is now.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no cure. By adding these simple steps to your daily routine, you’re being proactive about your brain health with the additional benefits of an overall healthier lifestyle. Keep in mind, healthy habits are for the rest of your life, they’re not temporary fixes. The good news is, all the tips are doable and sustainable.
- Sleep: It’s the most under-rated activity we do, yet it’s when our bodies work the hardest. It helps maintain old network connections and makes new ones that are healthy and vital to cognition by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
- Eat healthy: Examples of healthy foods to eat are at the top of this newsletter. Foods to avoid are inflammatory, processed, and sugar-laden foods; Stick with vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats, nuts and seeds.
- Challenge your brain: Change up your daily routine. Yes, reading and puzzles are great, but when you switch up your routine, you’re working your brain.
- Learn a new hobby or skill: Take classes of interest to you. I took Jim Kwik’s Superhero Brain Kwiklearning course. Jim had a traumatic head injury as a child. He more than overcame the odds of living a successful life. He also more than pays forward his experience and how he overcame it through his course. Check it out: www.kwiklearning.com
- Alcohol: Moderation is key
- Stay Social: Volunteer, get involved… mental stimulation over drugs any day of the week.
If you’ve experienced someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, you know how difficult it is. For everything a person goes through with this brain disease, the hardest part for me is knowing the people I love were still inside their bodies. Those lucid moments were not only enlightening, but deeply sad to me. It reinforced their internal and external suffering.
Before my sister passed, I saw an Off-Broadway play, My Mother Has 4 Noses. An incredibly poignant story about one woman’s experience with her mom’s dementia. Written and performed by Joantha Brooke based on her true story. I was so taken back by it, the next day I went to visit my sister. By that time, she was deep into the disease. She was sleeping on her side when I arrived. I laid down next to her. Crying, I poured my heart out to her. After a few minutes, she slowly turned towards me with outstretched arms and embraced me the best she could. She heard me. She, in this dark vacuum heard me and was comforting me. Imagine that! I was deeply grateful. I still am. Four days later, on the first day of spring, she passed. I prefer to believe it was her rebirth releasing her from suffering.
While there is no cure, there are choices. Choose to make healthy choices for yourself, and your loved ones. The more proactive you are now with brain health, the more you open yourself up to enjoying life in the moment and going forward.