By Elena Schjavland
With the tremendous stress sustained from family caregiving, it is important that the caregiver takes care of themselves. Make changes now while you are in your 40s, 50s, and 60's to be on the right track for cognitive health as you age.
1. Be a motivated patient. If you have health issues such as heart disease (especially hypertension), diabetes, thyroid disease, obesity or low vitamin levels, do your best to keep them in control. Untreated, they contribute to types of memory disease, cognitive impairment and dementia.
2. Get enough sleep. Have a sleep apnea study done if you snore or have risk factors (obesity, falling asleep during the day, large neck circumference, smoking, etc.). Inadequate restorative sleep can cause memory problems.
3. Exercise your body. Research shows that balanced daily workouts are key to aging well. Balance routines such as Tai Chi and yoga have been shown to mitigate risk factors for dementia. Sharpen your visual-spatial skills with ring toss, horse shoes, bean-bag games, or any hobbies that hone your precision skills. Do activities that emphasize eye-hand coordination.
4. Exercise your mind with puzzles, crosswords, sudoku, books and competitive board games. Play computer mind games for skills to flex and improve memory, sequences and basic knowledge. (Nintendo: Big Brain Academy and Brain Age; DVDs: "Mindfit" and "Brain Fitness Program" and online, www.lumosity.com and www.mybraintrainer.com.)
5. Adopt a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids. The same diet that is strongly
recommended for those with heart disease has been shown to limit the Alzheimer's risk factor. Add legumes (beans and nuts), salads with tomatoes, vegetables (dark and green leafy, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, cabbage and bok choy), fruits, and proteins (fish, poultry and lesser quantities of red or organ meat). Finally, limit butter and high-fat dairy products.
6. Get out and socialize with family, friends and community. Take up a new hobby, class or activity. Having larger social networks keeps your communication and social skills sharp and decreases the risk of depression. If you have sadness, blue moods or depression, talk to someone (your health care provider, your minister, your family, or others), but get help. This risk factor contributes to cognitive impairment, social isolation and potential for suicide.
Elena Schjavland is a board-certified adult and geriatric nurse practictioner, and the founder of Keys2Memory, LLC, a Mystic-based private practice that provides memory and dementia evaluations and behavioral and depression management. For more information, call 860.245.4144 or visit www.Keys2Memory.com.
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