My mom had a rich and successful life. A high achieving student in Manila, she graduated from medical school with high marks.
She moved to America in her 20s, worked as a doctor in several states, then settled down in the SF Bay Area. She traveled all over the world, from Hong Kong to Paris to the Caribbean. She hosted incredible family affairs at our home, welcoming and feeding scores of relatives over several decades.
But at 80 mom remembers almost none of that life. Or much of anything at all.
We spent today celebrating Christmas with her kids and grandkids. As I was driving her back to her residence, she couldn’t recall where she had been or what day it was.
Science has found no real treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. But thankfully prevention is easily and cheaply available to everyone:
- regular exercise : cardiovascular health appears to be associated with forestalling the worst forms of dementia
- eating right: there is no one “healthy brain diet”, but eating balanced meals and avoiding excessive strain on your heart and other organs appears to be important
- social connections: scientists don’t fully understand why maintaining many active relationships seems to help, but they posit it has to do with mental stimulation and emotional health
- mental stimulation : maintaining “neuroplasticity” is key to securing existing and building new neural pathways
The last point is pretty interesting to me. According to neuroscientist Lisa Genova, this isn’t just doing daily crosswords or watching game shows on TV. That is just rote conjuring up past information you have already stored. “Neuroplasticity” is best maintained when someone is constantly learning new things, like how to speak another language, taking a dance class in an unfamiliar form, or reading about a subject you are ignorant about.
Of course, one still might be genetically predisposed to memory loss. But for most people, these preventative measures seem to forestall and possibly prevent the worst kinds of memory loss.
Here’s a quick summary from the Alzheimer Foundation on one theory of what causes the disease: the beta-amyloid hypothesis. Compelling and scary stuff!