By Ryan Smolek
As our parents and grandparents age, it is normal to begin to notice a decline in health, mobility and many other things. However, memory loss, difficulty with problem solving, and confusion are a few signs that may indicate various types of cognitive impairment.
Only a doctor can determine whether a loved one's memory problems or confusion is Alzheimer’s or something else, and that same doctor will be the one to prescribe a course of action for treatment. There are, however, things that you can do to help your loved ones stay as sharp and healthy as possible during the onset of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
5 Tips on Delaying Their Mental Decline
- Make sure they are eating right.
Do you remember when your parents told you to eat your vegetables? For the sake of their health, now is the time for you to do the same for them. Encourage your parents to consume a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables. Additionally, try to replace red meat, which can be high in harmful saturated fat, with fish, which contains helpful omega-3 oils. A healthy diet can go a long way toward warding off Alzheimer’s. In a report released September 2015 the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation states, “No clinical trials have been sufficiently large and long enough to test whether DHA supplements or fish can reduce the risk of developing dementia per se." However, eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing additional health problems including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, cancer and diabetes, which can be complicated to handle in addition to dementia.
- Help them avoid stress.
It is no secret that stress can cause a variety of health problems, and Alzheimer’s disease is no exception. The fact is, when a person experiences stress, their body releases cortisol, which can damage brain cells that control memory. Help your grandparents find productive ways to deal with stress, including exercise and meditation. Learning how to relax more completely will help regulate cortisol levels and will decrease the chances for stress-induced memory loss. (This is important for caregivers too!)
- Get them moving.
What is the one thing your loved one can do that can cut their chances of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 50 percent? Exercise helps. Something as simple as going for a 30-minute walk or enjoying swimming in the backyard pool several times a week is enough to keep the body and the brain in good shape. Ensure that your parents or grandparents stay active. Insist on going for a brisk walk after Sunday dinners, or invite them to join you the next time you go to the gym.
- Keep their mind active.
Just as it is important to exercise the body, it is equally important to exercise the mind. Research has shown that increasing mental activity can actually slow the progress of Alzheimer’s in the early stages. Activities like playing chess, solving a crossword puzzle or reading a book are all great ways to keep your loved one’s mind engaged. Find something that your parent or grandparent enjoys, perhaps it is playing music or even playing a board game, and then get involved with them.
- Plan ahead.
If you are beginning to notice signs of cognitive impairment in your loved one, one of the most important things that you can do is start preparing for the future. Talk with your siblings about who will care for your parent if they are no longer able to live on their own. Begin researching how much care will cost, if a family member will provide care or a professional will be hired, and explore the options for paying for it. This type of planning will not do anything to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, but it will go a long way toward making the best of an unfortunate situation. Peace of mind in invaluable.
If you are seeing signs of confusion, memory loss or other cognitive issues in your loved one, it is important that they visit their doctor. However, it is also important that you do what you can at home to help them stall any mental decline. Encourage your parent or grandparent to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Help them learn how to decrease and control their stress levels, and ensure they have plenty of activities to keep them mentally active. Plan ahead for what the future holds.
While you are at it, consider taking the same good care of yourself. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — and nowhere does that hold truer than for your health. Caregivers experience high amounts of stress and it is extremely important for them to care for their mental, emotional and physical health.