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Published on: March 11, 2013
by Anne Eldridge for Courier-Journal:
If you have read this blog before, you know that my mother has dementia. Sadly, her condition is largely self-inflicted, caused by a lifetime of bad habits.
My mother loved all foods fried, white and/or cheesy. She never exercised, drank regularly and smoked fairly heavily until her heart valve replacement. A few years later, she fell, hit her head and had a stroke caused by the blood that pooled in her brain because her blood was too thin. Dementia followed close behind.
I’m sure it never occurred to my mother that her bad habits could lead to dementia—heart attack, lung cancer maybe, but not dementia. I think she might have been more careful if she had realized the likelihood that her death would not be a catastrophic event but a slow nursing home decline.
And, I’ll bet that most parents don’t realize that they can influence their children’s experience of old age. It’s true, according to my colleague at the University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics, Gilbert Liu, M.D., division chief of General Pediatrics. With that in mind, Dr. Liu offers this advice to grandparents, who often are able to guide their children’s parenting and grandchildren’s lifestyle choices.
by Gilbert Liu, M.D.
University of Louisville
Department of Pediatrics
Overall, U.S. adults are expected to live to 77.9 years and worldwide, lifespan is lengthening. That’s great news, except for one concern. As we live longer, dementia becomes more common than we previously realized. One out of every three persons over age 85 is expected to develop dementia. After age 65, rates of dementia tend to double every five years in developed countries.
Dementia is not inevitable. There are individuals who live to ages as advanced as 115 years with no discernible loss of brain function.
Research suggests that we can delay the onset of dementia by making smart choices about healthy eating, an active lifestyle, pursuing education, lowering blood pressure and lowering cholesterol. Making sure we prioritize physical and mental fitness can modify age-related declines in brain function, thanks to the “plasticity” of the brain.
The brain continues to mature into adolescence. The areas that take the longest to mature are the same areas that show the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
This period of brain maturation during childhood and adolescence presents an important opportunity for grandparents. If grandparents promote healthy eating, active play and fun activities that help children exercise their brains, they may build an early but lasting foundation for preventing dementia.
This goal of engaging grandchildren to improve both physical and mental fitness could be challenging. Children are more sedentary than ever before. U.S. preschoolers average six hours a day of being still, doing things like playing video games and watching TV. These same preschoolers spend only 15 minutes a day exercising and playing actively.
It’s a challenging goal but a worthwhile one, because the result is a legacy to be proud of.
Grandparents, help protect your grandchildren from dementia. Encourage them to:
• Be active
• Eat right
• Pursue an education
These healthy habits will serve your grandchildren for a lifetime, keeping blood pressure down, cholesterol low, brain cells firing. And, it will help keep dementia at bay.
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