Most of us know women who have developed dementia or Alzheimer’s whom we never expected would. As a condition that can change so much of how we experience the world, it’s fair to say that all of us hope we can learn how to prevent it.
As a healthcare professional, I’ve observed the changes and challenges that dementia brings but the good news is that there is hope. There are things we can do to reduce our risk of developing dementia.
So while we want to do what we can to not develop dementia, people like me are working hard to help more people learn how to get it right with people who are living with dementia.
We hope that someday dementia may be viewed with a mindset that “life has not just ended”, an acceptance that while the dementia journey is indeed different, it’s not all bad. Perhaps we can even be okay with what may be a beautiful time walking alongside our companion with dementia.
But let’s back up and identify what we can do to reduce our own risk of developing dementia:
Recent research cited by several notable groups shows that there is not a great deal of clarity about women and dementia. While it’s been thought that women were being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a higher rate than men, it’s now not clear that this is true.
Researchers are calling for a broader, deeper look into the topic of women and dementia in an effort to understand and thus, reduce the incidence of dementia in women.
As researchers consistently cite certain behaviors, habits and attitudes that can help us (both men and women) reduce our risk of developing dementia I’d like to outline a few:
• Exercise: It helps us manage our weight and our blood pressure and helps our blood carry more oxygen to the brain.
• Manage blood pressure. Some studies link high blood pressure to a higher risk of dementia.
• Check hearing and wear a hearing aid, if necessary. Some research suggests that not being able to hear well may increase the risk of developing dementia. Certainly, my observation from spending time with folks living with dementia is that not being able to hear well contributes to isolation, frustration, and a tendency to withdraw and mentally shut down from social situations — none of which helps us avoid dementia.
• Stay socially active. If you’re an introvert, this doesn’t mean you need to force yourself to spend time in large groups of people. Just keep getting together with your favorite friend, keep having phone calls with your kids and continue going to the library. If you are an extrovert, then say yes when you get invited to gatherings of friends or community events with lots of people. And if transportation is an issue, speak up and ask for a ride from a friend. They’ll most likely be happy to help — you can buy lunch or pitch in with gas money.
• Get good sleep. Our brains need that time of quiet, rest and renewal. If you don’t sleep well, get help, and do things like a consistent bedtime routine, exercise, limit your caffeine and manage your stress.
• Speaking of stress, do what you can to lower your stress but don’t stress about your stress. Research studies have shown that when the brain is scanned when under stress, it shows the same patterns as when the person is experiencing beauty. So instead of viewing stress as doom and gloom we can look at stress as an “activator” that helps us get moving on solutions, options, or other ideas to help us proceed through a challenging situation or season.
• Smile more. Even if you have to stand in front of a mirror and smile at yourself, there’s good evidence that smiling improves our mood. And why not?! My guess is that while smiling at ourselves in the mirror, we’ll start to laugh. And we all know the healthy effects of a good laugh!
• And about that laughter — read jokes out loud. Or browse the funny greeting card section at a store. Who cares if the other people in the store look at you strangely while you’re laughing at funny cards — you’ll be doing your brain a favor!
• Remember our body and brain are all part of our overall system made up of a gazillion different components — so if one is off kilter, the whole system is less able to work as well as it is intended to. As it’s sung by the Delta Rhythm Boys https://youtu.be/mVoPG9HtYF8 and adapted by Hermann Munster of the Addams Family television show, https://dai.ly/xismtd, our selves are all connected.
So be in tune to your body, your mind and your soul — and take care as best you can — of you! You’re special and I’m not just making that up!
Jill Couch, MS, OT/L
Certified Dementia Practitioner
Certified Beyond Driving with Dignity Professional
Better People Care LLC
Pro31 Safe Senior Driver LLC