Last week my uncle died and his funeral was held on Monday. He lived in Edinburgh Scotland, so I wasn’t that close to him as I’ve lived in Canada all my life and we’ve only met a few times. Even still, it was a sad day when I received this news. I was further saddened when I heard my Aunt wasn’t able to attend his funeral because she suffers from Alzheimer’s and it would have been too confusing for her. Alzheimer’s seems to run in my family, as two other Aunts of mine, who have both since passed away, also had this disease.
When it’s all said and done, life is nothing more than a collection of experiences and memories. All your worldly possessions don’t add up to much when you can’t recall the life you lived. This horrible disease robs people of their most precious asset...their mind. For me, the most frightening consequence of aging is the possible loss of my mental faculties. Utter the phrase “Alzheimer’s disease” – especially to someone like me who’s seen three family members touched by it – and people’s expressions tend to get a bit strained.
Although Alzheimer’s can affect younger people, it’s the most common cause of memory loss among the elderly. With the first baby boomers reaching age 65 in 2012, healthcare experts are predicting that many citizens will spend their final years either suffering from Alzheimer’s or caring for loved ones who have it.
Alzheimer’s is currently the only condition among the top ten causes of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even delayed. While death rates for other major diseases like stroke, heart disease, HIV, and several cancers – have declined in recent years or at least remaining constant, those with Alzheimer’s continue to climb at an alarming rate. Despite this grim trend, in 2011 the National Institutes of Health spent about one-tenth as much for Alzheimer’s research as it did on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS.
Given the lack of focus and funding for this mental health illness, it’s going to be a while before any meaningful treatment for Alzheimer’s is forthcoming. Like I’ve said many times before, what you do today has a profound impact on your health in the distant future, and this doesn’t only apply to your physical health, but also your mental health. So you might want to take care of your brain today to avoid being a statistic in the future. I suggest the following:
- Avoid unhealthy brain habits: Stop smoking, avoid recreational drugs and limit alcohol consumption to a maximum of one (women) or two (men) drinks daily. Smoking damages the blood vessels that feed your brain, and substance abuse including social alcohol consumption destroys neurons that simply cannot be replaced.
- Eat a healthy diet: When planning your meals, rely heavily on vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other compounds that are essential for neurotransmitter synthesis, healthy nerves and robust circulation. Limit red meats, which can be artery-clogging and increase oily, cold water fish, which is excellent for normal brain function.
- Exercise your body: 60 minutes of exercise daily not only protects your heart, strengthens your muscles and builds strong bones; it also helps delay the onset of dementia like no other medication. You don’t have to take up triathlons either, simple walking will do. Walking improves balance, aerobic conditioning and cerebral blood flow.
- Exercise your brain: A 2009 study in the journal Neurology demonstrated that people who read, write, learn a new language, do crossword puzzles, play board games or cards, play musical instruments or regularly participate in group discussions are less likely to develop dementia. The study’s authors reported that every mentally stimulating activity you undertake will delay the onset of dementia. Besides wanting to retire to the South of France where the ability to speak French is necessary, learning this language to exercise my brain is the second reason I picked up the Rosetta Stone program. Who knows if I’ll be able to speak French fluently, maybe not, but it sure is fun learning and like physical exercise helping my heart, I know learning French is helping my brain.
- Address your medical issues: If you have high triglycerides, high blood pressure, high lipid levels, or diabetes, or if you’re packing on more body fat than you should, see your doctor or medical provider to get these problems addressed immediately. Uncontrolled hypertension or chronically elevated blood glucose or lipid levels wreak havoc on your brain and contribute to memory loss. Studies show that people who are obese during their youth and middle age are 40% to 80% more likely to develop dementia than their healthy-weight counterparts.
More of us are living longer these days, and there’s no reason to believe you won’t be one of them. Making smart lifestyle choices right now just might keep you sharp-witted well into your twilight years. Don’t let poor lifestyle habits today rob you of the only thing of true value in your future....your lifelong memories.
Enjoy the Ride....Rob