Monday, June 19, 2017

Two Simple Secrets to a Long and Healthy Life

I recently took an Internet test to see what my life expectancy was.
It asked a lot of questions about life habits, history of disease in the family and even education. After I’d answered all the questions I clicked the Calculate-Life-Expectancy button at the bottom of the page.

Barring any accidents, I could live to be 94.3 years old. That is way longer than I expected as I’ve always thought I’d leave this planet at 85. The question is not only how long can I live, but, how can I live a long and healthy life. 

Want to Have a Long and Healthy Life? Here Are Some Sobering Statistics

The sobering part of this is that by age 80 we have a 30% chance of getting dementia and by 85 it’s almost a 50% chance of getting some type of dementia whether it’s from Alzheimer’s (AD), Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, vascular dementia or other diseases.

That’s pretty scary to me since my husband, Bob, had Alzheimer’s for 14 years. He passed away unable to feed or toilet himself, walk or remember our life together. He could barely speak and when he did he mostly made no sense at all.

The Alzheimer’s Association states that someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s every 66 seconds. The report also says that 5.5 million people in the US are living with the disease, and two-thirds of those are women. So not only are women the major source of unpaid family caregivers but we are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Embracing our Brains

Despite these statistics, I find dwelling on them makes for too many anxious or sleepless nights. For me, it’s important to know the facts but not be controlled by them. Instead I choose to live with a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle. How about you? Are you motivated to make changes in your lifestyle to stave off dementia? Not sure how to do this?

The Alzheimer’s Organization suggests ways to give yourself a better chance of doing just that. And the number one item is not a surprise. Here it comes (and I know you might not want to hear this) – exercise.

I’ve been reading more and more articles on the importance of exercise in our elder years. No, I don’t like that word either, so how about in our “wisdom years.” And scientific studies show an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

You don’t have to go to the gym like I do. You can choose whatever you like as long as it gets your heart rate up for 30 to 45 minutes at a time several days a week. Start out slowly, but start!

And work your way up to the optimal time. I find it so difficult to get myself out of the office and to the gym because there’s always work to do and I love my work, but once I get there I feel great – especially when the workout is over!
While I’m on the elliptical and treadmill, I study a foreign language and so I’m exercising my brain as well as my body. It also takes the tedium out of going nowhere fast. And learning something new happens to be another recommendation of the Alzheimer’s Organization for staving off AD.

A third benefit of aerobic exercise is that if you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia you’ll be taking care of yourself by getting some respite and energizing yourself to go back to the care giving grind.

If you’re under a doctor’s care, be sure to check your exercise regime with the doc and remember to start out slowly.

Food, Glorious Food

Another measure the Alzheimer’s Organization suggests is eating a heart healthy diet that not only helps your brain but also reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. One of the best ways to do this is to eat more vegetables. I’m not talking about plain steamed or boiled veggies but deliciously prepared vegetables, satisfying vegetables.
I’m a firm believer in not denying myself the food I love but rather in lowering the portion size, and of course eating those vegetables. Some of the recipes from Food Glorious Food, my column in the Bali Advertiser, might give you some ideas.

Dishes like Caponata Siracusa, a delicious Sicilian eggplant dish, 

Roasted Pumpkin with Onions and Sage, 


or Fennel, Potato and Arugula Salad. These and many more recipes can be found here.

A few of the other suggestions for loving your brain are to quit smoking, get enough sleep, reduce stress and stay socially engaged. These suggestions have been shown to help us buoy our cognitive function.

If I’m going to live to that 94.3 years, I want to do it with style, verve, energy, a continuing desire to learn new things, a sense of wonder and, oh yes, with humor. Embracing my brain, cherishing it and treating it right go a long way to attaining those goals.

What are your favorite forms of exercise? What ideas do you have to motivate yourself to eat a heart healthy diet? How do you embrace your brain? What do you think are the keys to a long and healthy life? 

Note: I originally wrote this post for 60 and Me .


Friday, July 29, 2016

An Advocate for Caregivers

Yesterday I met a very special man, Rev. Gregory Johnson, who is a passionate advocate for caregivers. He’s worked for years shedding light on the plight of all Family Caregivers, not just those who care for people with Alzheimer’s.  
As a caregiver himself he’s intimate with the stresses involved while caring for a loved one. He’s spoken at the UN, Pentagon, corporations and conferences. He’s written books and pamphlets because he knows that caregivers are often overlooked while most attention goes to the person with the illness. As a minister, he told me, “I’ve buried more caregivers than those being cared for.” 

Greg understands that caregivers need to share their stories, need to take care of themselves, and need respite breaks.  He works tirelessly to improve our lives.   His series of conversations called You Are Not Alone are on You Tube.  You can watch them here:

And THANK YOU to all caregivers for what you do.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Give and Take of Alzheimer’s

I gave a talk on being a caregiver at TEDx Ubud on May 28, 2016 . The talk is now on You Tube and you can see it here:

My caregiver days for my husband have been over for two years but the effects of those fourteen years of caring for him will be with me forever. Caregiving is a lonely business with families and friends often easing into the background, leaving the primary caregiver on their own. People with Alzheimer’s have a completely different operating system than we do. Family and friends may be uncomfortable being with a person living in Alz World, it may trigger their own fears about their later years, or they may feel that it’s too big a responsibility to step in and give respite to the primary caregiver. 

Dealing with dementia on a day to day basis is exhausting no matter how loving you are to the person with it. Encourage the people around you to come, even for an hour or two. Encourage them to enter Alz World to communicate with the person and have fun with it. Tell them to redirect the person’s attention if they stray into uncomfortable territory. You need the break for your very own health and sanity.

Try to start this support system early on in the disease to ease your friends and family into Alz World. That way it won't seem so foreign. 

If you know a caregiver, volunteer to give them a break. It's one of the best gifts you can give.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

TEDx Talk

TEDx Ubud happened this year on May 28.  TED talks are inspirational and informative whether I watch them on YouTube or actually have the privilege to attend the talks.  I always feel fired up watching people so passionate about their subject.  This year was no exception - only this year I was a speaker too. 

I was asked to speak about my fourteen years of experience as a caregiver to my husband, Bob, who had Alzheimer’s. It was an intimate look at life with Alzheimer’s and how it affects the caregiver.  Mostly we hear about the disease and how it ravages the person with it but there is little in the media about how it devastates caregivers.  A significant percentage of us die before our loved one because of the stress, emotional turmoil, physical challenges, and life changing consequences of being a caregiver for someone with dementia – someone whose brain doesn’t function like ours. The rest of us are changed forever, dealing with this challenging disease.

My dream is to advocate for other caregivers through my writing, speaking and experience. 

The article that goes with this photo can be found at:

A video of the talk will be on YouTube around the end of June 2016. I'll post the link then. 

Thanks for reading!