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Expert Elder Care Guidance
Expert Elder Care Guidance
My parents are so worried about coming down with Alzheimer’s. Is there anything they can do to prevent it?
Tell them to get out and about, keep up with their friends and family and make new friends. As odd as this advice might sound, two prestigious institutions are making the case through research that staying socially active can help keep Alzheimer’s at bay.
The Harvard School of Public Health studied 2,800 people over the age of 65 years. Those who had monthly visual contact with three or more relatives or friends and yearly non-visual contact with 10 or more relatives or friends staved off mental decline much better than those who had little contact. People who had at least five social relationships and kept regular contact reduced their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by almost 40 percent.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago examined the relationship between social networks and Alzheimer’s disease pathology. In conducting this first study of its kind, the Rush researchers studied their elderly participants’ social activities up until their death, then performed autopsies of their brains (with permission). They found that seniors with larger social networks exhibited fewer effects from the markers of Alzheimer’s disease – tangles and plaques – than those with smaller social networks. Even if participants had symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease indicated by their brain autopsies, you wouldn’t know it while they were alive. In other words, healthy and frequent interactions with friends and family build your brain’s protective reserve against Alzheimer’s.
It turns out that the mental decline we associate with aging isn’t so much due to the death of nerve cells, but rather the connections among them, and using the senses in new ways is how we maintain those connections, says Dr. Lawrence Katz, coauthor of Keep Your Brain Alive. Social interaction causes people to remain involved in the affairs of daily life and to continue to grow emotionally. It also requires making decisions. All of these interactions call on your senses to process information and respond which, in turn, nurtures these neural connections in your brain. The bottom line is that engaging in activities such as meeting new people, taking up a new hobby, learning how to use email, mentoring young people or taking classes will actually nurture a healthy mind. Just as your body needs to be toned with exercise, so does your brain. Some of the best brain exercises are old standbys, such as reading a good book or a challenging magazine article, playing Scrabble and doing crosswords.
Though TV is a form of connecting, it in no way replicates the benefit of actually getting out and about and interacting with people. If your parent is no longer driving or is finding it too much of a hassle to drive (be aware that he or she might not admit it), it’s a good idea to create a schedule where you, a friend or family member come over at least once a week with the understanding that you’re there to take your parents wherever they want to go.
If your parents live out of town and you are worried about them being alone and isolated, consider hiring a non-medical senior care service to drop by once or twice a week to prepare and have lunch with your parent, take them out and even play their favorite games with them like card games or checkers. Get families and friends to call every week and do something we all know is the greatest gift of all – visit!
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