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My Mom has dementia and my father-in-law died with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are cruel diseases that leave people devoid of the person they once were. I look at my Mom and know it’s her body, I recognize the curve of her smile and her small hands so much like my own, but in so many ways it’s not her. She no longer engages in conversation, rarely smiles and I know the day is coming when she’ll no longer recognize me. My dear father-in-law died not recognizing his wife or his children. He died long before his body expired. No wonder Alzheimer’s disease is the second most feared disease after cancer.

We can look at my Mom and my father-in-law and say, well, they’re in their 80’s and this is a normal part of the aging process. But the fact is, in our world of fast food, lack of physical exercise and diabetes rising at an alarming rate, we can expect more people to have dementia and Alzheimer’s at earlier ages. My mom and father-in-law worked hard from the time they were kids well into their senior years and they ate diets very different from the foods we eat now. They got to live long happy lives before their symptoms began and for that I am grateful.

I know I’m always encouraging you to work out and eat healthy but today I’m going to give you one more reason.  To some extent cognitive decline is a part of aging BUT science has found we actually stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia long enough to live without suffering from any symptoms. Here’s are the steps to living a long healthy life with full cognitive function:

1) Regular, moderate exercise Even if you haven’t been a fan of regular exercise for most of your life you can still join in at mid-life and still significantly reduce the risk of developing mild cognitive decline in late life

2)  Meditate –  this is was an eye-opener for me, meditation can actually improve your mental functioning by increasing the amount of gray matter in areas of the brain that are responsible for many cognitive functions including memory and learning.

3) Maintain a healthy weight – obesity at midlife has been shown to decrease brain volume and a risk factor for cognitive decline

4) Go Greek –  Mediterranean-style diets are heart-friendly and brain friendly – veggies, fruit, nuts and beans along with fish high in omega-3’s have been found to slow cognitive decline and lower the risk of dementia

5) Avoid tobacco –  adults who smoke into midlife are at risk for brain atrophy (shrinkage) and have more difficulty performing tasks that have multiple steps than their non-smoking counterparts ten years later.

6) Spice things up – believe it or not your brain enjoys spices like black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger and vanilla are high in antioxidants which may help build brainpower. Scientist’s are excited by tumeric, a common spice in Indian curries has been shown to reduce amyloid plaque in the brain.

7) Get checked for vitamin deficiencies –  Often older adults don’t always get the nutrients they need from food due to declines in digestive acids or because their medications interfere with absorption. Vitamin B-12 deficiencies can affect brain vitality and decrease cognitive function.

8) Keep a sense of purpose in your life – people who work or volunteer into their 70’s and keep social ties alive and well are shown to have better cognitive health than their couch potato, reclusive friends.

If you want to know more:

 The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life by Gary Small M.D.

 The Alzheimer’s Project – HBO documentary

Has your life been touched by Altzheimer’s or dementia?

Have a healthy, happy day!