Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease that affects many of us. I lost both my mother and her sister to Alzheimer’s disease. Worried that I could head down the same path, I was extremely interested in attending an Alzheimer’s Symposium here in town. The event was coordinated by the Charlotte Neuroscience Foundation and Memory Center Charlotte, founded by Dr. Charles Edwards. I must admit there were a few speakers that I simply could not begin to understand. They discussed advanced medical topics, such as scientific studies regarding amyloids and BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), subjects that many physicians might struggle to follow. However, when the discussion turned to exercise and nutrition for the brain, I began to take copious notes.
Some quick facts that I learned at the symposium and online:
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US.
It is the only top ten cause of death that cannot be prevented or cured.
Almost two-thirds of its victims are women.
One in three individuals over the age of 85 has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
The approximate number of US citizen over the age of 65 that have Alzheimer’s is 4.7 million. By 2050, it is estimated the number will reach 13.8 million.
By 2050, the annual cost to treat and care for Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients is estimated to be close to $1.1 trillion and could wipe out Medicare.
The hippocampus, the part of our brain that controls short term memory, starts to shrink by .25% a year after age 40.
The good news is that our brain is like a muscle. We can stimulate our brain, staving off the shrinkage and possibly even growing it! Even better, we can begin efforts to stimulate our brain at any age! The key items we need to work on are as follows:
eating healthy foods
continuing to learn
getting good sleep
achieving peace of mind
maintaining a sense of purpose
engaging in civic activities
Exercise: My first thought was “I’ve got this.” Then, I listened a little more closely. Exercise—I need to have my heart rate up for about 20-30 minutes each day. Having a workout partner can be a great motivator and will make you more likely to stick with the program. My workout partner and I have solved many of the world’s problems on our morning runs. Classes like water aerobics and Pilates geared to your level can provide good workouts and some social fun too.
Eating healthy: Many doctors suggest you follow a Mediterranean diet. Eat lots of plant foods, fresh fruits and avoid processed foods. I recently started working with a nutritionist. She has me eating 5-7 servings of vegetables every day. This is difficult for me because when I was younger vegetables were not my friend, unless covered in yummy cheese. Speaking of friends, my husband’s best friend is “Little Debbie”—Little Debbie Zebra Cakes or Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. You can even find Twinkies in my freezer. We have some work to do in this area!
Next up is continuing to learn. As many of you know, I spent my early professional years as a CPA. It wasn’t until 2009 that I studied to take the CFP exam. At that time, I was already over the age of 40 and evidently my hippocampus was already shrinking! While studying for the CFP exam, my brain was chock full of new information; maybe it was growing instead of shrinking. My youngest son heads off to college next year, therefore freeing up my mornings and evenings. While the Braggs hope to see me hang around the office until 5:30 pm instead of 2:30 pm, I’m thinking about learning to speak Spanish and trying to figure out how to play the piano with two hands instead of just one. When the speaker said “POSTPONE RETIREMENT,” my initial thought was, “What?” That had not crossed my mind.
Sleep seems to be a scarce commodity right now. The goal is to have approximately eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. When you wake up, you should feel refreshed. OK, I found my Achilles heel.
For Type A individuals like myself, achieving peace of mind is a little elusive. However, I have learned a few breathing techniques that have come in handy when trying to relieve stress and/or fall asleep. One technique I am working on right now is called 4-7-8. Inhale for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale for a count of 8. Repeat 3 more times. This can be performed with your eyes open and even in front of someone who is stressing you out!
Maintaining a sense of purpose and civic engagement can go hand in hand. For some, helping others gives life purpose.
Here at Bragg, we are working to make sure you are protected if your memory starts to slip. We may ask you for an emergency contact, someone we can talk with if we have concerns about your memory. We also rely heavily on estate planning documents, for example your power of attorney document.
I’ve looked into my mother’s eyes as she worked to remember my son, listened to her tell me she’s already taken the pills that still sit in front of her, and watched her as she tried to remember where her bedroom was. This is not something I want my children to go through. If I do nothing my brain will diminish. My lineage gives me a strong possibility of getting Alzheimer’s. Imagine my delight to learn from the Alzheimer’s Symposium that anyone at any age can make their brain grow. I’m going to start today, how about you?
This information is believed to be accurate but should not be used as specific investment or tax advice. You should always consult your tax professional or other advisors before acting on the ideas presented here.