Dementia used to terrify me more than cancer, stroke or any other health condition. It felt like I only had two options: I could either worry about the future obsessively, or I could avoid thinking about it at all. After all, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, right?
I was wrong
Just in the last five years or so, a third door has appeared - one that opens up onto an infinite number of paths I could choose for myself. I realized that I could do something to prevent dementia and to protect my brain. Not just one thing but a hundred things.
And actually I was already doing a lot of them every day. By choosing to take care of myself through making healthy lifestyle choices, I was taking care of my brain.
It was just a matter of dialing in my habits with more consistency. Putting my self care at the top of the list of priorities. Building my resiliency and sorting through the things that get in the way of me taking care of myself.
1. Being committed
The first step for me to engage in the fight against dementia was simply to decide to stop looking the other way. I had gotten so used to avoiding and running away from my fear that I had forgotten what was at stake.
Dementia robs us not only of our memory, but it makes us question our sanity and undermines our self, especially in the early stages when we’re not sure what’s happening. No wonder depression/anxiety, sleeplessness and personality changes often go hand-in-hand with the findings of mild cognitive decline.
I realized that fear was keeping me stuck in denial/avoidance of my personal risk, and so I had to shift to finding how love would motivate me to take action. It was simply a matter of recognizing what I wanted for my kids and our future together as a family. I wanted to protect them against having to take care of me in the future, and that meant committing to taking care of myself now and every day.
2. Being curious
While there have been few breakthroughs in terms of dementia treatment to date, we are learning more and more about risk factors and early diagnosis of dementia. As of 2021, there are 33 Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers and 270 active clinical trials in the pipeline.
We have learned that at least a third of dementia cases can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices, if we begin at least 2-3 decades in advance of the first symptoms. And so many more cases can be delayed, so that we can be in a position to take advantage of treatments when they become available.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in brain health. Educating ourselves about neuroscience has the added benefit of exercising our brains through acquisition of new knowledge and synthesizing findings.
3. Being involved
Just bringing awareness to this disease and its impact to families and communities can help to reduce the stigma that often surrounds dementia. It takes courage to share our stories openly, and it can help inspire others to do the same.
When we channel our negative energy into love and compassion, we are powerful beyond measure.
There are so many ways to engage in the community of those who are fighting dementia. We can choose to register ourselves in a database to be followed by researchers asking questions about lifestyle, or we could enroll in clinical trials ourselves.
4. Being compassionate
There is nothing easy about living with dementia. Whether your life has been touched by dementia in some way, or you know someone who is a past or current caregiver. The ground is constantly shifting under your feet and the future can seem scary and uncertain. No one signs up for this on purpose.
I’ve met so many patient and compassionate caregivers over the years. I only wish that they could share some of that tenderness and caring for themselves. It takes tremendous courage to shoulder the responsibility of caregiving, as it does to face up to our personal risk for dementia.
Instead of arguing with the reality of what is: Can we shift our experience by choosing to let it be hard, scary and frustrating? Because when we are able to channel our negative energy into love and compassion, we are powerful beyond measure.