Just after I took an early retirement at age 50, I became much more aware of the cognitive issues that were facing my parents who were then in their mid 70s at that time. Mom had always been sharp, the valedictorian of her high school, a registered nurse with an advanced degree, and a relentless reader. My father, though less educated, was always interested in the latest gaget and more than willing to engage others in conversation about a myriad of topics. Because I was the only sibling that lived near my folks (and my retirement afforded me much more free time) it fell to me to take them to their medical appointments. I already knew that my dad was beginning to have cognitive issues, but my mother was able to hide the severity of them for the most part when I was busy with teenagers and working full time. The first time I took Dad to the VA for an appointment with his geriatrician, I saw my once gregarios father struggle to answer what should have been relatively simple questions. When he couldn’t remember what he had for dinner the night before ar even for breakfast an hour earlier, I knew my food-loving father was much worse off than I had thought.
Although I was aware that dementia was somthing that my dad’s parents also struggled with late in life, they both lived well into their 90s and my dad was 88 when he passed. I always figured I was more like my mother and so somehow not at risk for the same fate as I got older. Now I am not so sure. After a couple of falls in the past year and a half I have noticed that my recall is not as strong as it used to be. I especially notice it when I am looking for the right word (or spelling) to use in one of my blogs or when trying to recall the names of people I have recently met. My husband has noticed it in other ways, but always tries to be gentle in relaying those observations to me. Current research shows that nearly 1 in ten adults 65 or older have dementia and two thirds of those are women. I will turn 65 in January.
The good news is that researchers are learning more every day about memory loss in older adults. And, that memory loss is a symptom rather than a confirmation of dementia. More importantly, dementia is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Studies show that getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful alcohol consumption, controling weight, eating a healthy diet, and keeping one’s blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars in a healthy range can reduce the risk of getting dementia. I am doing my best to try and control those factors. I keep my brain engaged as well by reading, writing, doing crossword and other puzzels, and engaging friends and family in conservations regarding local and world events. I am teaching myself to be a better photographer and I love to explore new places through travel, both local and worldwide. I even learned a little something from my Dad’s VA doctor. Most morning when I first get out of bed and my mind is still a little fuzzy, I make myself recall what we had for dinner the prior evening. It’s seems like such a small thing, but in the end I want to know I did everything I could to manage my memory and hopefully prevent full-blown dementia. As I always told my kids, “All you can do is the best you can do.”