Joanne Tandoc, Community Caregiver Wellness Coordinator
January is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month. It is a disease that we all dread to have as it brings about tremendous losses in a person’s life and in their loved ones’ too. It is partly brought about by genetics, but more recent research suggests that lifestyle has a big role to play in the emergence of its symptoms. We also now know that because of our innate brain characteristics, that brain scientists are continually learning about, our brain cells can grow, develop and change throughout life.
So, what can we do to lower our risk for dementia or delay its onset?
Before I answer these questions, let’s talk about factors that increase our chances for getting Alzheimer’s, as these will better our understanding of brain health. According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada’s website, an estimated half of Alzheimer’s Disease cases worldwide, may be the result of seven key modifiable risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, depression, cognitive inactivity / low education and physical activity. There are also factors that we can’t change, like our age, the hormones associated with the gender we were born with and the genes we inherited from our family.
Instead of dwelling on those non-modifiable traits, it will be more beneficial to focus on those things that we can do something about. Being mindful of the kinds of food that we eat, our daily physical and mental activities, our outlook on life and the habits that we know are not good for us, will do us well. As the brain and the body are very interconnected, it is important to remember that keeping the brain healthy is a holistic approach: we have to keep our bodies in great shape in order to maintain our brain health and vice versa.
To put it simply, it’s also been said that whatever is good for your heart is also good for your brain. Our brains rely on a constant supply of oxygen and nutrient rich blood, which the heart pumps throughout the body. The following will help maintain good heart and brain health:
- Engaging in regular physical exercise,
- eating a healthy diet,
- managing your stress levels,
- getting a good night’s rest,
- managing your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels,
- quitting smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, will do your hearts, bodies and brains well.
I know these seem like a lot! In setting our health goals, though, it is best to start small. Just as a seed does not become a full-grown tree overnight, so do we need patience and nurturing to cultivate healthier habits as well.
Also consider the processes involved in reaching your goals. It will help if the goals you set are Specific (e.g. I want to lose 10 lbs. vs. I want to lose weight), Measurable and Action-oriented (e.g. I will run the treadmill every other day, for 30 minutes at a time), Realistic (e.g. smoking one cigarette each day vs. stopping smoking altogether) and Time-bound (i.e. setting time lines, as to when you want to reach a SMART goal; otherwise, it will just be wishful thinking!)
In conclusion, maintaining overall health is the best way to keep Alzheimer’s at bay! It is no easy feat! But remember, wherever you are in your health journey, SCHC is here to support you. We offer a range of health services, such as primary care and diabetes care to help you with your blood sugar, blood pressure and other medical concerns, counselling services from qualified practitioners to receive emotional support during challenging times, volunteer opportunities, social and recreational programs for adults 55+ years, and many more! Please check us out!
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and “Alzheimer-free” 2020!
Joanne is passionate about brain health and Alzheimer’s Disease. A foreign-trained psychologist, she worked in memory centres in the Philippines and was an educator for the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto. She currently is SCHC’s Community Caregiver Wellness Coordinator.