Almost a year ago my dear old mum passed away at the age of 83. For about 5 years she had gradually declined mentally and physically because of dementia. The first time we noticed it was when she was cooking a lovely family dinner and couldn’t remember how to make custard. Over the next few years things got worse and worse. My dad was amazing in his care for mum, but eventually he couldn’t cope anymore. I will never forget the look of sadness on her face when we left the nursing home that day. We walked outside and wept.
Mum spent about a year and a half in the home before she peacefully passed away early one morning. The nurse had gone into mum’s room, looked at her and said, “Sheila, it’s fine if you want to go now.” A few minutes later she took her last breath. I had been with mum every day the week before and had said my “goodbyes.” I have no regrets. She was a great mum and I have many fond memories.
I conducted her funeral a few days later and then came back to Melbourne. But niggling in the back of my mind was a fear of getting dementia myself in my latter years, so I started doing some reading and research on what causes it. I know there’s no known cure at this stage, but some of the current research strongly indicates there are several ways to reduce your risk and slow it down. Here’s what I found out:
There are six things we need to do to keep our brain healthy, stronger and lasting longer:
The first is exercise that helps to reduce stress, improves memory, increases energy and lifts our sense of wellbeing. Research shows that exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia by 50%. The recommendation is for a balance between cardio, weights and stretching / breathing exercises such as Pilates.
Secondly, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet has been found to be the best mix of food to help prevent dementia. Foods to include are fish, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and lots of fruit and vegies from across the colour spectrum to maximise protective antioxidants and vitamins. Other foods that help include ginger, green tea, white and oolong tea, black coffee, soy products, blueberries, and other dark berries, lean protein and healthy fats, a glass of red wine and square of dark chocolate, eggs, quinoa, hummus and brown rice. Drink lots of fresh water.
Avoid full-fat dairy products, fast food, fried foods, and packaged and processed foods and drinks as well as refined carbohydrates that are high in sugar and white flour. Eating six small meals throughout the day is recommended.
Thirdly, keep your mind active. Learning new things like a foreign language or a musical instrument, reading, taking up a new hobby, playing strategy games and board games (like Scrabble), memorising Scripture, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku all help. When you drive somewhere take an alternative route, eat with your non-dominant hand, rearrange your computer file system. Vary your habits regularly to create new brain pathways. Luminosity gives an excellent brain workout. Subscribe to it and you’ll receive a daily email reminder.
Number 4: Get at least eight hours of sleep per night. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day because your brain’s clock responds to regularity. Avoid taking naps during the day. If you have to nap then a maximum of 30 minutes early in the afternoon is the way to go. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual and ban TV, computers and phones from the bedroom. When stress, anxiety, or negative thoughts keep you awake, get out of bed. Try reading or relaxing in another room for twenty minutes then go back to bed.
Next, it’s important to limit the amount of stress you experience especially over long periods of time. Do things that help you relax, breathe deeply, and engage in prayer, meditation and reflection.
Finally, keep yourself actively involved with other people. We’re not meant to be alone we’ve been created for community. Join a church community, attend regularly, make friends, get involved and volunteer. Wherever possible do some of the above recommendations together – eat healthily with friends, exercise with others, play board games together and pray with others. Making sure all of these ingredients are in your life will not only reduce your risk of dementia, they will also lead you to living the happiest and healthiest life possible.