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Navigating Alzheimer’s: Tips to boost brain health and help caregivers

Navigating Alzheimer’s: Tips to boost brain health and help caregivers

June is Brain Health Awareness Month

Age may be just a number, but as we add more candles to our birthday cake our risk for cognitive decline also increases. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and can eventually impact a person's ability to perform simple tasks. It's the most common type of dementia and involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language.

During Brain Health Awareness Month in June, experts at Parkland Health share tips on ways you or a loved one can lower your risk of developing dementia and as well as highlighting strategies to help caregivers of dementia patients deal with this challenging diagnosis. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, raising awareness and adopting proactive lifestyle changes can help with maintaining brain health and delaying the onset of symptoms.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, including 5.6 million aged 65 and older. Additionally, minorities and women have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and it is estimated that Hispanic and Black Americans will see the largest increases in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias diagnoses through 2060.

“People diagnosed with dementia may act and speak normally one moment and be disoriented or confused the next,” said Raja Paspula, MD, Medical Director, Community Oriented Primary Care (COPC) and a Geriatrician at Parkland Geriatric Center. “It can be difficult for families and caregivers because the disease makes people behave unpredictably. Their loved one no longer has proper judgment or impulse control, so in turn, they can act inappropriately or even put themselves or others at risk of injury.”

While age and genetics play significant roles in Alzheimer’s disease, certain lifestyle choices and habits can influence brain health and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Dr. Paspula offers these tips to help protect cognition as you age:

  • Engage in Mental Stimulation: Keeping the brain active through activities like reading, puzzles, learning new skills or engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations can help maintain cognitive function and build cognitive reserve.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: A nutritious diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats provides essential nutrients that support brain health. Foods high in antioxidants, such as berries and leafy greens, can help combat inflammation in the brain.
  • Stay Physically Active: Regular exercise not only benefits physical health but also contributes to cognitive well-being. Aim for a combination of aerobic exercises, strength training and flexibility exercises to enhance blood flow to the brain and promote the growth of new brain cells.
  • Prioritize Quality Sleep: Adequate sleep is crucial for brain health and cognitive function. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night and establish a consistent sleep schedule to support optimal brain function and memory consolidation.
  • Maintain Social Connections: Social interaction and meaningful relationships have been linked to better cognitive health and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Stay connected with friends, family and community groups to boost mental stimulation and emotional well-being.
  • Manage Stress: Chronic stress can have negative effects on brain health and may contribute to cognitive decline. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, going for a walk or engaging in hobbies that promote relaxation such as knitting or gardening.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia can be emotionally and physically challenging. As a caregiver, it's essential to take care of yourself while providing the best possible support for your loved one. Simple ways to help navigate this journey with compassion and resilience include:

Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about Alzheimer's or dementia, including its symptoms, progression, and available resources. Understanding the condition will empower you to provide better care and anticipate your loved one's needs.

Establish Routine: Maintaining a consistent daily routine can provide stability and reduce anxiety for both you and your loved one. Set regular times for meals, medication and activities to create a sense of predictability.

Practice Patience and Compassion: Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer's or dementia may require extra patience and understanding. Be prepared to repeat yourself, listen attentively and validate their feelings. Approach each interaction with empathy and kindness.

Simplify Tasks: Break tasks into small, manageable steps to make them easier for your loved one to complete. Use visual cues, prompts and gentle reminders to guide them through daily activities such as dressing, grooming and eating.

Ensure Safety: Create a safe environment by removing potential hazards and employing safety measures such as installing handrails, securing rugs and using locks on cabinets containing prescription medications or dangerous chemicals.

Seek Support: Don't hesitate to ask for help when needed. Joining a support group for caregivers or seeking professional counseling can provide emotional support and practical advice. Reach out to family members, friends or community organizations for assistance with caregiving responsibilities. Accept help from others and prioritize your own health needs.

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