Alzheimer’s Disease Impacts Each of Us
I always look forward to talking to John who moved recently into the retirement community. He was a high powered litigator in a large metropolitan area. His quick wit makes everyone’s day better. I can just imagine him back in his career days charming a jury. John has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is unable to live alone. He is among the more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, the only leading cause of death that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. An additional 15 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers for individuals with the disease. Already the nation’s most expensive, at a cost of $259 billion in 2017 the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that by mid-century the number of people with the disease is set to nearly triple.
I was recently in Washington DC for the Alzheimer’s Advocacy Forum and learned a great deal. Congress heard the call and took action in the fight to end the disease by approving a $400 million increase in Alzheimer’s research funding. Plus Federal funding at the National Institutes of Health has increased to nearly $1.4 billion.
Here are 10 ways to love your brain, some tips that may reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
- Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
- Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke – obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
- Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
- Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and cognitive function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.
- Catch some Zzz’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
- Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
- Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community – if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an afterschool program. Or, just share activities with friends and family.
- Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.
June is Brain Awareness Month, and there are several local events to raise awareness. For an individual with Alzheimer’s and their caregiver, every day is The Longest Day. The Alzheimer’s Association has created an event on the summer solstice, June 21, 2017 that both symbolizes the daily challenges of Alzheimer’s and honors those who battle these challenges daily. You are encouraged on this day to reach out to a caregiver who might need a break to help them make it through the day, or spend some time with someone who is afflicted with the disease.
I know within our lifetime, many did not believe that polio could essentially be eradicated from the world. I look forward to a day when Alzheimer’s disease is added to the list of diseases with a cure.