What you Should Know if Dementia is in your DNA

For those of us caring (or have cared) for parents with dementia, you should know there are a variety of factors that we can control that will reduce our risk.

The first is good news for those of us that worry that genetic factors have sealed our fate.

Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia (JAMA, July 2019) The study sought to determine if a healthy lifestyle was associated with lower risk of dementia, regardless of genetic risk. They found that a favorable lifestyle was associated with a lower risk of dementia among participants with high genetic risk. There is considerable evidence that individuals who avoid smoking tobacco, are physically active, drink alcohol in moderation, and have a healthy diet have a lower dementia risk.

The next study reports that higher levels of daily physical activity may protect against the cognitive decline and neurodegeneration (brain tissue loss) from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) that alters the lives of many older people. This was from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Exercise offers protection against Alzheimer’s (JAMA Neurology, July 2019)

I noticed what a difference exercise made for my Dad who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I worked to encourage him to get exercise, but it got to the point that the only way it worked was when I would challenge him to play Racquetball with me. He had a group of friends that he regularly met in the mornings, but after he fell on the Racquetball court and broke his hip, he was just unable to return more because he couldn’t manage to plan ahead and would not allow me to help. When I did get him moving he was just more communicative. I do need to add that he recovered from his hip surgery and was still able to beat me. While I could run, I just couldn’t outsmart his crafty shots.

I have also seen this with the older adults I work with. The more they are engaged with others and active, the better they seem to manage when it comes to working on daily finances and household chores. I have many that really want to stay in their homes but also don’t realize how isolating that can be.

The middle stage is hard to navigate as our loved ones think they are managing but are unable to recognize what they are not able to do or follow up on. If there is anyway to incorporate friends who can help them return to an activity they shared it will give them both a social and a physical boost?

The research has proven that we aren’t predestined to the fate of our parents if we have a favorable lifestyle. The good news for our loved ones is that exercise will help them even after a diagnosis. Let me know if you have had some success getting your loved ones that have been diagnosed moving again. Encouraged.

Break a Habit of Drinking Alcohol #6

drinkinganddementiaOne of my big fears after caring for my parents is that should I lose my short-term memory, I will also lose the ability to know that I have had more than one, or even two drinks.

I have yet to see alcohol on any healthy diet without an asterisk next to it. I’m always intrigued to read interviews with octogenarians (and older) to learn what they chalk up to their healthy aging habits. I swear that a snifter of whiskey or brandy has been in the largest majority of those I have read.

What I do know is that the habit of “quiet hour” honed over 5 decades of marriage became a problem for my parents when they lost their short-term memory. Instead of stopping at one or two drinks, they started to drink more. It was one of the most obvious signs to their adult children that something was different with our parents.

During this period we learned that there is a form of dementia that is a result of alcohol abuse. Drinking and drug use is proven to kill brain cells faster than aging alone. You can learn more about these impacts on this page at the American Addiction Center.

At first we thought my Dad’s quietness and forgetfulness were because of the increased drinking. We later learned that he had Alzheimer’s. Had there been no habit of drinking, we may have gotten to an answer sooner.

During this time, I was able to encourage my parents to purchase Umbrella insurance. I was terrified that their actions could hurt someone and they could lose all of their savings.

If you have a study that shows that alcohol does lead to healthy aging … please share! My belief is that like many things, moderation is the key. My goal is to age without a habit of drinking alcohol. Aspired.