How many times have you walked in a room to do something only to forget what it is you wanted to do? Imagine this happening every day, all the time. Imagine forgetting your loved one's names and faces. Alzheimer’s is a physical disease that affects the brain where over time proteins build up and form structures called “plaques” or “tangles which lead to the loss of connections between nerve cells and loss of brain tissue. It is a progressive disease which means over time more parts of the brain are damaged; more symptoms appear and become more severe. Symptoms of this disease are unique to each person. The earlier symptoms usually consist of short term memory lapses, such as: losing items like your keys, struggling to find the right word in conversations, forgetting someone’s name, getting lost in a familiar place, etc. Later symptoms may be language & speech problems, visual spatial problems (navigating stairs or parking the car), lack of coordination, and problems with concentration, planning, organizing, making decisions, solving problems, orientation and delusions. A change in mood (being anxious, irritable, depressed or aggression) can be seen as well.
For the most part, onset usually occurs with people over the age of 65, but anyone at any age can develop it. Women are two times more likely to be susceptible, but not sure why. Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with multiple risk factors. Some, like your age and genetics, are outside your control. However, there are 6 things you can do in your daily life that could keep your brain working longer and stronger.
- Regular exercise: can reduce your risk 50 percent. Build muscle to pump up your brain and include balance and coordination exercises. Start out small and build yourself up. Always contact your physician before starting any exercise program.
- Stay socially engaged: Human Beings are social creatures-we do not thrive in isolation. Develop new friendships by volunteering, join a social club/group, take classes, social media, etc.
- Eat a healthy diet: cut down on sugar, enjoy a Mediterranean diet, avoid trans fats, get plenty of omega-3 fats, stock up on fruit & veggies, enjoy daily cups of green tea, and cook at home often.
- Mentally stimulate yourself: learn something new, practice memorization, enjoy games/puzzles/riddles, etc.
- Get quality sleep: the vast majority of adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Practice Stress Management: do daily relaxation exercises, breathe, nourish inner peace, have fun and keep your sense of humor. Other tips to reduce risks are: stop smoking, control blood pressure/cholesterol levels, watch your weight, and drink only in moderation.
Tips for dealing with the holiday and someone who has Alzheimer’s are: avoid wrapping gifts with bows and ties-simply add the gift to a bag, do not create an elaborate table setting-keep it simple, if staying w/ family-try to set up similar sleeping quarters (if there is an alarm clock on a nightstand, recreate this as best you can, bring blankets and lamps that are part of a person’s nighttime ritual), maintain regular routine as much as possible, consider a holiday lunch or brunch to avoid evening confusion, and involve a person with memory loss in preparing food, decorating, wrapping packages. Hopefully someday there will be a cure for Alzheimer’s, but until then do everything you can to defend yourself. Don’t let it steal your memories, your abilities, and your life!