COLUMN: Maximize your brain health

June is one of my favorite months because it is filled with sunny days and warm weather. This month also holds significance because it marks Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.

Audrey Durgin

As the Alzheimer’s Association notes, June provides an opportunity to have conversations about the brain. These conversations may be difficult, but are important to have.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are major public health issues that impact so many as the disease’s ripple effects spread from the person experiencing it to caregivers, loved ones and friends.

How can we help a senior loved one try to reduce the likelihood of facing this disease? What can we do if a loved one has Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia?

This is an ideal time to talk about these questions.

Recognizing early signs of Alzheimer’s or other dementias in a loved one can be difficult to do.

Regardless of specific circumstances, it’s always best to lead with compassion and love. Give yourself and your loved one extra grace as well.

The three most common signs of dementia include memory loss that disrupts daily life, increased difficulty completing familiar tasks and having trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships. Two other frequent signs are sudden changes in mood and personality or new problems with speaking or writing.

If someone is showing signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia or has been diagnosed with this disease, there are many steps loved ones and caregivers can take. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends maintaining a consistent routine, such as bathing, dressing and eating at the same time each day. Similarly, plan activities the person enjoys and try to do them at the same time each day.

Consider creating a system of reminders, like to-do lists, tracking appointments in a calendar or listing a medication schedule in a notebook. Buy loose-fitting, comfortable and easy-to-use clothing; think elastic waistbands, fabric fasteners,and large zippers instead of shoelaces, buckles or small buttons.

It’s also important for loved ones and caregivers to know that it’s ok to ask for help. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia is challenging and there could be a point where your loved one needs more support than can be offered at home.

Although there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia yet, we can take steps at any age to maximize our brain health and reduce the likelihood of facing this disease.

First, stay mentally active. The Mayo Clinic notes that playing games, reading and puzzles can help you exercise your brain. Like a muscle, you need to keep using your brain.

Second, stay physically active. Regular physical activity is believed to help maintain blood flow to the brain.

Third, eat healthy food. The National Institutes of Health report that a healthy diet can help preserve cognitive function.

Finally, be social. Peer-reviewed studies have found that older adults with high or increased social engagement have a lower risk of dementia than those with consistently low social engagement.

These tips are applicable to those with or without dementia.

This disease impacts Americans of all ages. As part of the national Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, take some time before the end of the month to talk with your loved ones about brain health.
Make a plan to exercise your brain and learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Audrey Durgin is the executive director of Spring Arbor of Albemarle, a senior living community offering assisted living and memory care services. She can be contacted at amdurgin@springarborliving.com.