Friends and family. More important than ever.
The week before Christmas, my parents moved into an Aged Care Residential Home to “trial” it for three weeks. They’ve lived in their family home for 55 years where they raised their three children. It’s a sad situation made worse by the fact my mum is experiencing fear and paranoia due to delirium which was probably caused by either an infection or general anaesthetic. If not delirium, then dementia is a possibility. Experiencing the rapid loss of cognition with “the ageing brain” close up is something some of us may have either experienced already, or may do some time in the future. It’s not nice for anyone. I can’t describe my experience in any other way.
I’ve recently completed a short course run by the lovely Dr Sarah McKay from The Neuroscience Academy. The Ageing Brain is a topic she covered so I was a very keen student.
While emotional regulation can improve with age, cognition declines. But for some, cognitive decline is very apparent due to dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term describing a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain. The one we hear about most often, and probably because it is the most common form of dementia, is Alzheimer’s Disease.
Research has identified seven risk factors associated with dementia: low educational attainment, physical inactivity, smoking, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity and diabetes, and depression.
A fact I didn’t know and now do, is that loneliness can double the risk of dementia. This is an incredibly sad fact. Thinking about my parents, while they did live in their family home with memories attached, they no longer knew neighbours as they had mostly moved on. When catching public transport became difficult and community transport not always within easy reach, social networks from the local shopping centre started to diminish. So in many aspects they were isolated and possibly feeling lonely. Their three children visited but with all of us no longer living in the same suburb (or even the same State), calling by daily or even weekly was near impossible.
While we can’t escape the fact that we will all get old, and also that some genetics may play a part in dementia, we can manage our lifestyle choices. We can choose to eat well, to exercise, to be a non-smoker, to continue to learn new skills and knowledge, and to not drink alcohol excessively. And to remain socially connected.
Learning new skills and knowledge is accessible to everyone today. Even if technology doesn’t play a role in that learning (especially for those already in their later years), there are three words that can support everyday learning. They are “tell me more”. We can all remain curious whilst we have our cognition. Learning can come from reading, listening, and asking questions. And as a younger person with elderly parents, I can also play a role in bringing new knowledge into the conversation for discussion and learning. And as a younger person I can, due to the knowledge we now have via scientific research, be proactive with my choices to support my own ageing brain.
Staying socially connected is so important - preventing loneliness and continuing to learn through conversations and “tell me more”. But it's a two-way street. We need to care for our social connections, be a giver and not just a taker.
I hope everyone has a wonderful 2017 and that it brings you health, happiness, wonderful social connections, and of course resilience. And if you're a keen cyclist and runner like me, I hope you have some fantastic riding and running adventures throughout the year (with friends).