Tag Archives: caregiver health

How’s YOUR Memory?

If someone in your family has dementia, you might be worried about losing your memory. While there are genetic factors we can’t control, studies now say that exercise and other good habits may protect our ability to remember.

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In a recent AARP Magazine article, Lisa Davis (no relation to me) described how she investigated her own troubling lapses of memory. Davis went to Maryland’s Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness, to undergo a comprehensive process now used to assess cognitive health. The brain exam begins with a health history to identify possible sources of past trauma (like concussions) or physical problems  (high cholesterol, for example). From there, the exam moves into cognition tests that require you to complete word lists and solve visual problems.

The final aspect of the health review focuses on fitness. A person must ride a stationary bike while electrodes monitor how well their body pumps blood to the brain. As it turns out, this sort of exercise may be a really effective activity for preventing the advance of Alzheimer’s disease.

Davis cites the work of Dr. Arthur Kramer of the University of Urbana-Champaign whose studies have shown that older adults who walked for 45 minutes, 3 days a week, showed marked improvements on cognitive tests after one year of sustained walking.

In addition to adding this kind of basic exercise program to your life, you may want to consider other strategies suggested by AARP. They include:

  • Learning a new skill  — Have you tried knitting or carpentry? Mastering new ideas helps your brain build cognitive resilience.
  • Getting sleep!! If caregiving responsibilities disrupt your sleep, try to figure out what you can change to get the rest a healthy brain needs. Consider respite care or trading night time roles with another family member so you can restore your cognitive health.
  • Eating better — Focus on green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil. Limit refined carbohydrates like bread and starchy snacks.
  • Challenging yourself to memorize things — Try learning the names of trees and flowers in your neighborhood or the top golfers in the U.S. Open. Using your memory skills help you retain them.
  • Learn to meditate — Practicing meditation improves breathing; this reduces stress and increases blood flow to the brain.

Of course, it’s easy enough to read a list of things we ought to do. If you are a caregiver, just keeping up with the demands of daily life might feel like a marathon. But no one else will protect your future health if you don’t do it yourself. Pick one thing in the list above that you’re not currently doing and make an effort to try it three times this week. They say it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. Your future is likely to stretch much longer than that. So why not start preserving cherished memories today?

Memories and Mothers

Peel back the exhaustion, stress, and worry. Inside each caregiver you’ll find someone else: a child, husband or wife who gave and got love, never knowing they’d be sharing the future with dementia. Mother’s Day awakens the girl inside me whose mom looked cool in a mini dress, dancing the Jitterbug with my dad.

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On Saturday nights, she was a tiny, blonde in heels and sparkly earrings. For church on Mother’s Day, she dressed my sister and me in pink skirts that matched her own. We sat in the pew like a row of tulips, bowing and raising our heads when she did.

Spring brings many reminders of those times. It might be the pastel flowers that make me think of Easter hats. But simple celebrations made Mom happy too. There was a long patch of grass that bordered an old garage near our house. Every May that strip of land gave birth to zillions of bluebells. On the way home from school, I often stopped to pick some for my mother. Sometimes I stayed ’til my tiny fingers couldn’t pluck another flower. Then I carried them up the hill to a woman who was worried sick because I was half an hour late. Sorry, Mom, I wanted that bouquet to be big as a meadow, grand as my love. When you’re six years old, that takes a long time.

This year we had fake Mother’s Day a little early. For a Mom with dementia, a Wednesday is just like a Sunday. It was the only time my sister and I could merge our schedules to bring us all together. We took Mom out to dinner and she was quite happy. Being fed by two daughters at once made her feel like a queen.

On fake Mother’s Day, we were caregivers. Dutiful, organized, and protective while other people stared at the mashed potatoes we spooned into her mouth. But today, as I spied a patch of bluebells, I felt like her child again. Remembering the race into the kitchen, flowers in hand, wanting to make her laugh with joy.

Those days are long behind us, but I picked some bluebells for my own pleasure. They remind me that being her child was a privilege; caring for her is sometimes like that, too.