We all know that forgetting is frequently a part of aging. Many jokes about getting old make fun of losing memory. But for those of us who have diabetes, the prospect of early dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is not a joke.
Roughly one-third of those over 85 have Alzheimer’s, and people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop this disease. Those statistics hang over us like a cloud as we grow older.
It is comforting to know that there are things we can do to help keep our memories alive, things that will slow down the aging process in our brains. The nonprofit mental health group Helpguide has some advice about this. Their catchy name for it is the “six pillars of Alzheimer’s prevention.”
I like the picture of our brain as a building that needs to be maintained. The six pillars are simple, too: regular physical activity, a healthy diet, mental exercise, good sleep, stress management, and an active social life.
Another list I found is based off studies in which researchers measure and rank the lifestyle changes that seem to slow cognitive decline. The list of changes includes quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, doing mental exercises, controlling your blood pressure and diabetes, and fighting depression and obesity.
Experts emphasize that they have no idea what actually triggers Alzheimer’s dementia. Bad habits don’t cause it, but making changes such as the ones listed above has been proven to help prevent or slow the progression of the disease.
The most interesting fact coming out of the studies is this: One of the best ways to ward off Alzheimer’s is to keep your mind active. So mental exercise is important. But what kind of exercise are we talking about?
Anything that engages your brain will help improve your cognitive health. Mental exercise begins with getting out of ruts. Doing new things, or doing old things in a new way, will stimulate new pathways in your brain.
Try learning a new language. I love practicing sign language because it is fun and involves my hands too. You might take up dancing or painting or practicing an instrument.
A new hobby is a great way to stimulate your brain. What did you love to do when you were younger? Is there a dream you abandoned? Go back and try again. It is what I have done.
Writing keeps me sharp, though I sometimes have trouble finding the words I want to use. It can be frustrating, but the effort to create keeps my brain buzzing. It feels good.
Brain games are great exercise too. Crosswords, Sudoku, strategy games, puzzles, board games, all sorts of card games — these are just examples. Since socializing is also helpful for improving your chance of keeping your brain alive, play games with other people as much as you can.
Communication, organization, and interaction are the kinds of mental activity that keep our brains supple and healthy, according to psychologists who measure mental strength. But do not overthink this. If the hobby or brain game engages you, makes you forget the time, and makes you feel alive, it is helping.
Things that involve memorizing are good for your brain too. Try learning all 50 states and their capitals. Learn a new route to someplace you go often. Think of other ways to use your memory. Doctors have found that this improves cognitive ability for years afterward.
Here is another idea: Remember. Your memories, especially the ones from your youth, may not seem valuable to you, but they are precious.
Find a way to preserve them in a journal or on a disc, or tell them to someone. Do not let your hard-earned memories disappear. Not only will this enrich other lives, it will improve your brain health.
Please try some mental exercises so you can fight the specter of Alzheimer’s dementia. Keep your memories alive.
What are some skills you need for living well with diabetes? Nurse David Spero shares wisdom from those who are walking the walk. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.