During the course of my career in senior housing, I have witnessed countless spouses spending their days caring for loved ones; loved ones who, tragically, can no longer remember that they once shared a life together with this dedicated spouse. The cause of this tragedy is, of course, the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
I stumbled upon the book, Preventing Alzheimer’s by William Shankle and Daniel Amen, recently. In this book, Dr. Shankle makes the sobering point that the damage of Alzheimer’s disease begins in our brain cells some 30 years before external symptoms begin, the process starting as early as our 30’s and 40’s. Alzheimer’s disease is no rare thing either. Current statistics boast that one out of every two families has a loved one who has been diagnosed.
What other disease has a 30 year germination period, affects 50% of American families, starts as early as in our 30’s, and whose symptoms treat us so cruelly?
The positive news is that the effects of Alzheimer’s can be delayed if the proper prevention techniques are taken early and often enough.
Here are some basic principles for memory loss prevention that are good reminders for all of us. Any one of these things alone may not be overly harmful, but in high doses, or in combination, deficits in these areas can speed up the spread of Alzheimer’s.
Get enough sleep. Eat a good mix of nutritious foods. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Constantly try to learn new skills. Avoid stress and extreme multi-tasking as much as possible. Practice planning, anticipating, and thinking ahead. Participate in activities which require the coordination of multiple body parts at once.
This list is simple enough, but also not overly exciting, which is why I wanted to create a list of “outside the box” activities that combine many of these basic principles, but in a way that makes them more palatable to work into our weekly routines.
- Write lists, such as grocery lists, but then challenge yourself to not look at the list when shopping unless you absolutely have to. This slows down stress and multi-tasking by forcing us to stop and plan ahead with a list. Then, it forces our minds to try to recall what we have already written. This stimulates those brain channels that we previously accessed, keeping the pathways sharp and clear.
- Play Kinect on the Xbox 360. If you are unfamiliar with the Kinect, it uses motion detection and infrared sensors to interact with the game on screen, rather than using a controller with buttons. While it is relatively new technology, I believe it can play a vital role in the memory care community. Unlike normal video games, playing Kinect games legitimately gets your heart racing and fulfills your exercise requirements for the day. In addition, it incorporates the principles of learning new skills, coordinating multiple body parts at once, and also anticipation and planning of future events. That’s a really solid list of benefits.
- Get lost. This may sound like a strange one, but take a drive, and don’t use your normal routes. Take unknown back roads and examine the surroundings. Let your brain take in the whole sensory experience as it builds new memories. You can even go so far as to “get lost”, meaning you only have a vague idea where you are and must use your instincts and best guesses to find your way to your destination. Of course, I would recommend having a GPS or cell phone on hand in case the getting lost becomes more permanent than you were wanting.
- Begin a part-time job or volunteering position. I highly recommend that retirees find a part-time job or volunteering opportunity that forces them to stay engaged and learning. Taking on additional responsibilities allows you to continue to build relationships, helps you to learn new skills, and gets you outside of the house for both exercise and some fresh oxygen for your brain and lungs.
This list in not comprehensive, there are countless other activities we can engage in to keep our minds sharp and our bodies healthy. Keep the list of basic principles in mind and try out some of my “outside the box” ideas. It’s never too early to start the fight against Alzheimer’s. Your memories are worth it.
Derek Gillette is the Community Outreach Director for Fountain Court Senior Living in Maple Valley. He lives in Cherokee Bay with his wife and four (soon to be five) children. Contact him at email@example.com