Making the connection: Local Alzheimer’s program links healthy living, brain health
By Eileen Persike
NORTHERN WISCONSIN – The New Year can signal new opportunities, starting fresh or even starting over; it also marks the end of what can be a busy holiday season and a return to a regular routine.
Often, the New Year involves a resolve to eat healthier, lose weight and exercise more.
Capitalizing on those resolutions and perhaps observations of older relatives made over the holidays, the Alzheimer’s Association is hosting a pair of free programs that answer many questions people tend to ask this time of year.
“Healthy Living for Your Brain and Body” will be held Tuesday, Jan. 17 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the ADRC of Oneida County, 100 Keenan St., Rhinelander, and “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s” will be held Monday, Jan. 23 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Olson Memorial Library, 203 N. Main St., Eagle River.
“I picked those two programs to start the New Year because they are probably two that we get the most questions about,” said Julie St. Pierre, Local Community Outreach Coordinator for the Wisconsin chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “When people reach out to the association for more information, usually those questions are surrounding, ‘What can we do to prevent this from happening?,’ or ‘I’m concerned about a parent,’ ‘I’m concerned about a spouse or a friend,’ and starting to see things and they don’t know, whether it’s just them getting older or if it’s the start of something more serious.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease that results in the loss of brain cells and function. It is the most common cause of dementia, and there is no cure.
The healthy living workshop in Rhinelander will discuss new research and cover four areas of lifestyle habits that are associated with healthy aging, cognitive activity, physical health and exercise, diet and nutrition and social engagement.
“The research is not extraordinarily new, other than that the evidence each year gets stronger, in that the things we are talking about are, in fact, making a difference for people when it comes to lifestyle factors,” St. Pierre said.
There are risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementia that cannot be controlled, such as age and genetics. But people can take control over those lifestyle factors that can lower the risk for the disease.
“A new way of thinking about it is when we teach Healthy Living for the Brain and Body, there’s really nothing in the program that people haven’t already heard from someone else,” St. Pierre stated.
The difference, she said, is that when this information has been shared by healthcare providers, it is usually about heart health.
“But they are not making the connection that everything we do that is healthy for our heart is also healthy for our brain,” St. Pierre said. “I think we’re missing an important piece there, where I think more people are afraid of Alzheimer’s than they are of heart disease. I think if we start to talk about brain health and how it relates to heart health, people may take what they are doing for their heart health a little bit more seriously when they recognize it is also impacting their risk for developing dementia.”
It is never too early or too late to make lifestyle changes. Cigarette smoking, for example, can put people at a higher risk for cognitive decline as they age, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. But if someone stops smoking, evidence from research shows that their risk of cognitive decline will go down, as if they had never smoked.
Sleep is also important. People that don’t have good sleep habits or undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders are at a higher risk for developing cognitive decline, too.
“Someone with sleep apnea who is not getting good oxygen to their brain at night, their brain is not recovering, it’s not processing memories, it’s not storing memories properly and you start to see those forgetfulness symptoms start to happen,” St. Pierre explained.
Though there is no guarantee that doing everything right will prevent a person from developing dementia, it is possible to decrease the risk.
“If, in your 30s or 40s, you take control over some of these things and you start exercising regularly and you have a healthy cholesterol level, and you have healthy sugars and you don’t have high blood pressure, the long term effects of that could be maybe you don’t develop Alzheimer’s,” St. Pierre noted. “Maybe you’ve kept these risk factors under control and you don’t develop it. Or you’ve lived such a healthy lifestyle that instead of preventing it, you have slowed it down, so instead of developing Alzheimer’s at 75, you’ve lived to 85 before experiencing any cognitive decline. How much better would that be to have ten more years of a healthy brain?”
10 warning signs
For people wondering whether they are seeing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or just witnessing signs of aging in a friend or relative, the free program in Eagle River, “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s,” will explore common signs of the disease and typical age-related changes.
Those include memory loss that disrupts daily life, confusion with time or place, changes in mood and personality, decreased or poor judgment and others.
Attendees will be offered tips on how to approach someone about memory concerns, learn details on possible tests and assessments for the diagnostic process and find out what support resources are available.
For more information on these and other free programs through the Alzheimer’s Association, or to register, contact St. Pierre at 715-352-4091 or [email protected].
Visit www.communityresourcefinder.org for additional local information.