Image above credit BeBrainPowerful.org
Dementia does not run in my family. Nonetheless, as a dementia care partner, I think about brain health a lot, and I know that taking care of my own brain is as important as taking care of my spouse’s.
I need to be healthy in order to keep her healthy.
Last week, I decided to try out “Be Brain Powerful,” the 30-day Brain Health Challenge from Us Against Alzheimer’s. The “Brain Powerful” program is based on the Cleveland Clinic’s 6 pillars of brain health — which you can learn more about at healthybrains.org.
6 Pillars of Brain Health
Food & Nutrition
Sleep & Relaxation
The “Brain Health Challenge” sends me an email every morning with a goal for the day that addresses one of the pillars. The first day contained resources for planning healthy meals. The second described some easy yoga stretches. Another day discussed ways to get a better night’s sleep. Each day’s goal is achievable, although as someone who likes specificity, the one that said “get involved in your community!” was a little vague for my taste.
SHIELD Program for Brain Health
The Cleveland Clinic is not the only research institution working on the connection between lifestyle and dementia. A few years ago Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, came up with a handy acronym — S.H.I.E.L.D. — to describe things you can work on to delay the onset of dementia and perhaps even slow it down once it begins. Notice that nobody with real cred is saying that dementia, once it gets really rolling, can be cured. But twenty or even ten years before it starts, you may be able to work on lifestyle changes that might prevent it.
S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for:
S = Sleep
H = Handle stress
I = Interact with people
E = Exercise
L = Learn new things
D = Diet
Tracey began following Dr. Tanzi’s recommendations a couple of years ago, and I will testify that her brain function has improved. We don’t have any medical test results to prove it — we haven’t requested any — so you will just have to take my word for it. What constitutes improvement? Fewer meltdowns, a renewed ability to keep a calendar with very little help, a little less hesitancy around decision-making and self-starting activities are certainly a chunk of it.
For her, the stress component — removing it when possible, dealing with it in the moment in better ways, and developing mindfulness practices — has made the most difference, followed by exercise and diet. Our COVID shutdown has been helpful for all three in several ways: 1. We stopped traveling; 2.there hasn’t been much else to do other than go out for long walks, ride bicycles, and swim when a pool is available; and 3. cooking at home is healthier than eating out, as we all know.
The other three components (Sleep, Interact, Learn) are not so much of a problem. Tracey has never had trouble sleeping. Her middle name should be “Extrovert.” And she has always been curious about absolutely everything around her. Dementia hasn’t changed any of that.
They say what’s good for the heart is good for the brain, and I say what’s good for your loved one’s dementia-laden brain is also good for yours. Pick a program — there are lots out there — and get the two of you going.