Alzheimer’s is increasing relentlessly and the longer we live, the more likely we are to get it. Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia have swelled to epidemic proportions. Millions of us have it, millions more will get it, and its treatment may bankrupt us. The growing number of aging baby boomers threatens to drown us in a sea of forgetfulness.
Unfortunately I had first hand experience. It was a shocking, sad moment, the first time my mother forgot who I was.
My mother’s dementia had been slowly but gradually increasing for years. I was losing her, mind first. It had happened to friends, now it was happening to me. Now it was more than statistics; it was brutally personal.
This is frightening, especially if we believe that we have no options.
But there’s actually some good news when it comes to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Researchers have recently made a startling discovery—the rate of Alzheimer’s and dementia is actually decreasing. That’s according to a report in the November 29, 2013 issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. There’s been no breakthrough medical discovery, no magic pill. Scientists attribute this unexpected shift in a positive direction to the development and adoption of healthier lifestyles, increased levels of education, and improved prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Apparently, we are not helpless victims waiting for Alzheimer’s to attack and destroy our brains. Making lifestyle changes makes a real difference. When we improve our physical and mental health our risk of developing dementia of any kind is greatly reduced. Now, that gets my attention!
We have some control. We can reduce our risk of becoming a dementia statistic. How? The “lifestyle” factors mentioned in this report and elsewhere are no mystery. They include a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, lifelong learning, and active social engagement. While these may be simple and easy to understand, they are not necessarily that easy to implement. It means experimenting with new behaviors and making changes. Change of any kind can be challenging. So, let’s make it simple.
- Diet. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits, olive oil, some fish, nuts, whole grains, and lesser amounts of red meat and dairy.
- Physical exercise. Any exercise is good, the more the better, and the more intense the better (within reason). Walk half an hour most days. Go to the gym. Find innovative ways to work your muscles and stay active.
- Mental exercise. It’s essential to deliberately stimulate your mind, use your imagination, and continue learning. It’s great if you can retire, but don’t retire your brain!
- Social life. It’s vital to engage in life and remain socially active. Don’t become a recluse. It’s remarkable how beneficial interacting with other people is for preventing dementia. In fact, chronic isolation can devastate your health and be as unhealthy as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day!
My mother is gone now and it grieves me that the good news about preventing Alzheimer’s didn’t surface in time to help her. But it can help me and it can help you. Let’s live healthy enough now to age with grace and remember who are children are until we share our final goodbyes.