“Good health and good sense are two of the greatest blessings,” wrote Publilius Syrus, a Latin mime author who lived 85-43 BC. He was known for his witty and wise aphorisms. This simple statement seemed to resonate with me as I ponder what if any New Year’s resolutions I can make to maintain my own health, and what I should write to encourage caregivers to look after theirs.
I am not usually good at making and keeping New Year resolutions, but the more I read about the impact one’s lifestyle has in developing dementia, I believe that I need to set some goals for 2018. One of the books I began reading over the Christmas holidays is The End of Alzheimer’s, The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia, by Dr. Dale Bredesen. Bredesen is Professor of Neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is known internationally as an expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease. This book has opened my eyes to the various lifestyle and dietary factors that can help prevent as well as even reverse the cognitive decline of dementia.
There are many research projects that prove exercise and healthy eating improve stress levels. Dr. Bredesen also makes the case for these two lifestyle factors, among others. He notes that “…brain health is closely related to general health.”
Exercising and Brain Health
Daily exercise is a relatively easy way to keep the brain in top shape, even as we age. The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California recently provided results from their research that taking a short walk each day makes for a resilient brain. In their two year project, researchers found that of the 26 adults (60 years and older) in the high physical activity group (defined as those who walked more than 4,000 steps or approximately 3 kilometers each day) had thicker hippocampi, as well as thicker associated brain regions, when compared with that of those falling under the low physical activity category.
I try to walk about a mile (about 2,000 steps) at least four days a week, but I am setting a new resolution for 2018 to double this pace toward a goal of 4,000 steps (about two miles). It isn’t realistic for me to double it right away, but to work toward that by the year’s end. Fitbits, smartwatches, fitness bands, pedometers, and apps for phones now make it easier than ever to track steps.
I know that caregivers, especially those who live in colder climes, may not have the ability to go out each day for a walk. However, I encourage you to try to get some exercise each day. Choose your own best way to do that.
Dr. Bredesen writes that an unhealthy body mass index (BMI) raises one’s risk for cognitive decline. When I read this, I quickly checked my BMI to see if it is within the goal of between 18 and 25 for optimal cognition. While mine is within that range now, I know I have to work on keeping it this way. If you want to check your BMI, here is the formula that Dr. Bredesen gives: “Simply multiply your weight (in pounds) by 703, divide by your height in inches, then divide that by your height again.” (Page 155)
Laughter and Brain Exercises
Laughter is a good way to “jog” internally. It’s an easy “exercise” for the brain, body, and soul, and you don’t have to go outdoors to do so. A joke a day keeps the gloom away. Laughter is also a good stress reliever as it reduces cortisol levels and releases endorphins. Laughter transmits nerve impulses to facial muscles to the limbic system which is the key emotional center in the brain. Read humorous stories or watch funny movies to decompress at the end of a challenging day.
While I try to do other daily brain exercises utilizing AARP’s website and/or Lumosity tools, plus crossword puzzles before going to bed, my third goal during 2018 is to try other means to keep my brain fit and alert. I have attached a link to an article by Linda Melone that gives “Ten Brain Exercises that Boost Memory.” She gives ten excellent ideas to stimulate and keep the mind alert and healthy.
Even in ancient times, Publilius Syrus realized that “good sense” was critical for a healthy lifestyle. It may not be realistic for many of you who are caregivers to make more than one resolution in the new year. Making more than one can be overwhelming, and more likely keeping them will not last well into the year. However, I hope if you choose to do only one, that it will be one that empowers you as a caregiver. I’d like to suggest that, if you aren’t already a member of a support group, that you make this your “Number One” New Year goal.
I give educational presentations to groups of caregivers and see that many suffer social isolation. I notice a great difference in persons who are part of a regular support group. They appear to be healthier, less stressed, less depressed, encouraged by others dealing with similar issues and problems. There is no need to be embarrassed by reaching out and asking for support. This is only “good sense.” To find a support group near you, check with your local Alzheimer’s Association or call their 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900).
You likely have heard the joke, “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” It’s not enough to make resolutions. Let 2018 be different, even if you make one resolution that will empower you. Create a plan to help you stay on track. Keep a journal to note your progress and what you have learned. Take care of yourself as you care for your loved one. May 2018 be a year of keeping yourself in good health!
I wish you peace, patience, compassion and joy in your caregiving today and each day of the coming new year.
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Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter has a two-minute video that touches upon lifestyle factors and disability. You can check it out at: https://www.drperlmutter.com/lifestyle-factors-disability-how-our-lifestyle-choices-improve-quality-of-life.
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For more information about The Semel Institute’s 4,000 step research, check out this article: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320463.php.
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For ten ideas about brain exercises, read Linda Melone’s article: https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/mental-fitness/brain-exercises-for-memory.aspx
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To download The Stress Management Society’s 9-page “Seven Step Achievement Plan for 2018” go here: https://praesto.infusionsoft.com/app/linkClick/17468/6b93479f0b6749ad/15782808/892b033902910aa4