Feed Your Brain | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Feed Your Brain

Dawn R. Dugle


There may come a day when I don't recognize you. We could be best friends, have had great adventures and long conversations about everything under the sun. But I won't know that. I'll stare blankly at you as you repeatedly tell me your name. I'll smile sweetly as you tell me stories about our adventures, not because I remember, but because they're great stories I'm hearing for the first time. You may cry. You may get frustrated and scream at me. You will be devastated because I can't remember who you are, and even worse, I won't care.

It's because I'm at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.

When I was in college, I hadn't even heard of it. One day, my mother took my grandmother to the doctor because Grandma had started to forget things. She would wander off and make strange comments. My mother suspected Grandma had Alzheimer's, but the doctor only said dementia—a medical "catch-all" for mental deterioration. The doctor didn't prepare us for what was to come. He didn't tell us my grandmother would completely forget my mother. He didn't tell us the heart-breaking agony we would go through watching her slowly die. My mother knew. She read up on it and tried to prepare her six siblings and my grandmother. But they were all in denial.

That is pretty common, said Barbara Dobrosky, program director of the Mississippi Alzheimer's Association.

"There's usually one child, a daughter or daughter-in-law, who steps up to the plate and says, 'Something's not right.'" Dobrosky said. "The spouse and other siblings might have denial about it. 'Oh, they're just forgetting.'"

Dobrosky earned her master's degree in social gerontology, and she knows first-hand how devastating the disease can get and how it can create a rift in a family. Both her grandmother and father had the disease, and now her mother is battling it. Dobrosky has been working with the Alzheimer's Association for 20 years and travels around the state teaching people about the disease and what to expect.

"After all of these years, the main thing people are looking for is: 'What is Alzheimer's? Where am I going? What's ahead of me?'" she said.

Behavior and Communication
Dobrosky said caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease boils down to two things: behavior and communication.

"The behavior is what gets everyone all riled up," Dobrosky explains. "The behavior brings everyone to the fact that you have to change your way of communicating with the person with dementia."

Some of that behavior could include the patient standing outside the bathroom, not sure if she needs to go in or just came out. The patient may not know appropriate things to say or do in front of other people. The patient can be seen as "cantankerous" or a "troublemaker" if caregivers aren't trained to deal with it.

Not "Old Timer's" Disease
So, you may ask yourself, "Why in the world would a 30-something woman be worried about it? It's an old person's disease."

But that's a myth.

My grandmother was in her 70s when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but these days, younger people are getting the news. Dobrosky said there is even a patient as young as 33 in central Mississippi.

No cure exists, and the disease is fatal. Alzheimer's attacks your brain tissue until you cannot function anymore. That can be a slow process, but you can do certain things to keep healthier, longer.

Feed the Brain
Dobrosky and the Alzheimer's Association run a program called "Maintain the Brain," which advocates keeping healthy by challenging yourself mentally and physically.

"Anything you do to keep your heart healthy, keeps your brain healthy," Dobrosky said. That includes exercise, keeping your blood pressure and your cholesterol low, and challenging your mind.

My mother's way of challenging her mind is to go back to school. She's been attending college, getting one degree after another for the past 18 years. She also likes to beat me at Scrabble. As for me, I don't start the day without my Sudoku puzzle, and often will drive a different way home from work to see new things.

All of that is good, Dobrosky says. She also says social interaction is one of the "most fantastic things." Getting coffee with friends, going to see the symphony or attending a party are all ways of feeding your brain. While it may not vaccinate against the disease, you can have fun trying to stay healthy in the process.

For more information about Alzheimer's disease, call 1-800-272-3900 or visit http://www.alz.org/ms.

The 10 Signs of Alzheimer's Disease
1) Memory changes that disrupt daily life.
2) Challenges in planning or solving problems.
3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home or at work.
4) Confusion with time or place. Losing track of dates, seasons, passage of time.
5) Trouble understanding visual images/spatial relationships. Patients may not recognize them selves in a mirror.
6) New problems with words in speaking or writing. Trouble following or joining a conversation. They may repeat themselves.
7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Patient may put things in unusual places.
8) Decreased or poor judgment. Poor judgment with money, paying less attention to grooming.
9) Withdrawal from work or social activities. They may forget how to do their favorite hobby or how to follow their favorite sports team.
10) Changes in mood and personality. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset.

Source: Alzheimer's Association

10 Ways to Feed Your Brain
1) Take your typical morning routine, and do it backward. If you go get the paper, then make your coffee, then take your shower, turn it around.
2) Put the "other" shoe on first, or step in the "other" pant leg first. (Always start with the right? Start with the left.)
3) Drive a different way to or from work. It will cause your brain to see new things.
4) Try crosswords or other puzzles. Too hard? No problem. It's even better for your brain if you leave them unfinished. It's all about the challenge.
5) Get out of your comfort zone with social activities. If you always get brunch on Sunday with friends, go for coffee on Saturday afternoon instead.
6) Take a class. It doesn't have to be for a degree. How about salsa dancing?
7) Eat less fat and get more antioxidants in your food. Add in some fish; it's good for the brain.
8) Go for a walk, run, bike or swim. Bonus points if you take a different route.
9) Avoid bad habits. Stop smoking, cut back on the drinking and wear your seatbelt.
10) Fly a kite, swing on a swing or blow bubbles—for no reason other than it will get you out of your routine. And it's fun.

Previous Comments


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