Caring for Ourselves II: Diet, Purpose, Spice, Life

Dementia looms like a mythical monster with countless arms and changing faces. We try to be brave as we confront the challenges of the disease. But while we care for others, our self care must find a high place on our to-do list. Our actions are the only real defense against getting the disease ourselves.

Last week this site offered ideas about physical habits that can help us maintain good health. Now let’s consider diet and lifestyle choices. The ideas below were drawn from an article by Beth Howard in AARP Magazine. But similar recommendations have been made in a wide range of recent articles from international research institutes like Rush University and the Karolinska Institute.

1. Eat with your health in mind. Caregiver stress may make you crave salty carbs or sweets, but you can help yourself much more by eating some version of the Mediterranean diet. Try to focus on  fresh fruits and green, leafy vegetables. If the oranges and apples in your supermarket are too expensive, check out farmers markets in your area. Seasonal foods are often cheaper and more nutritious than chain retailers’ expensive produce.

2. Add spices to your food. Science has discovered some amazing links between better brain health and consumption of cinnamon, parsley, ginger and turmeric. Turmeric is thought to bond with the amyloid plaques that have such devastating effects on dementia patients. This spice has even been found to have positive effects on cancer patients.

3. While you’re adding spice to your diet, make sure that you aren’t suffering from any vitamin deficiencies. People who do not absorb enough Vitamin B from their food can put themselves at risk for lower brain performance.

4. Hone in on the higher purpose of your life. Some of us have a clear sense of why we are here and what we want to accomplish through our actions. But the caregiver role can make us forget that we have a purpose beyond care. Keep a journal, reserve some quiet time, or just meditate on your goals to help keep your inner compass steady.

5. Maintain your social connections. If you don’t take time to talk with friends, relatives or other caregivers, you may be depriving yourself of an important source of protection. People with larger social networks have a strong, proven health advantage.

Time, of course, is our sworn enemy. Getting from sunrise to sunset can feel like a marathon. But some of these recommendations require just two minutes in the spice section of the supermarket or one hour at a caregivers meeting. These small investments in ourselves may make the difference between staying healthy longer or facing a devastating illness we still have time to prevent.

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