As we age, especially after we cross the age of 45, there are irreversible changes that take place in our bodies. Memory loss – dementia – is one of those changes. However, as with everything else to do with the body, you only reap what you sow.
In this case, reaping has everything to do with the kind of lifestyle you live now. Treat your body well in your youth, and it will not fail you in your old age.
In December last year, Sam Ojangole, was looking forward to visiting his paternal aunt in the village. “She is my favourite aunt and the only surviving sibling of my late father. We have been really close because she paid my school fees from the time I was in primary school. I arrived at her home carrying a bag of bitengi (African cloth) for her. As I smiled at her, there was an inquisitive look on her face. I asked if she was not happy to see me. She replied, “Please remind me. Who are you?”
Ojangole was shocked. No one had informed him that his aunt was sick. She did not look sick. “She looked well. But her caretaker told me that over the course of the year, her memory had been deteriorating. Now, she does not know me.”
When a loved one begins to lose their memory, it can be frustrating. According to Dr William Ouma, of Serene Medical Centre in Kajjansi on Entebbe Road, there is no research-based evidence that dementia can be prevented.
“However, a healthy lifestyle, full of exercises that stimulate and challenge the brain can go a long way in helping one reduce their risk of suffering memory loss as they grow older,” he advises.
Exercise your mind
Like the body, the brain needs daily workout to keep it alert. If you are not one to be sitting down to read a book, take time off to play cards, scrabble, and snake and ladders with your children, do word searches or try to learn a few words in a new language.
“I always see older people trying to fill out the crossword puzzles in newspapers,” Dr Ouma says, adding, “This is good because it keeps the mind active by continuing to learn new words and phrases and then, trying to remember them.”
Besides crossword puzzles newspapers also carry Sudoku challenges. If you cannot access a newspaper, here is a quick challenge for you – try to say out loud all the 55 countries in Africa.
To begin your journey to creating mental challenges for your brain, ensure you get enough sleep. A tired brain is an inactive brain.
Smart food choices
In this day of limited time and ‘instant everything’ it is only natural that we tend to move towards fast foods. However, a diet high in fats, salt, sugar, and low on green fiber will tip the scales of your health.
Dr Ouma says, “Obesity can increase one’s risk of getting high blood pressure. This, in turn, places them at a risk of suffering a stroke. People who have suffered strokes are at risk of getting dementia.”
A healthy diet should include lots of fruits and vegetables, and white meat such as, fish. Cut down on sugary and refined foods.
“Besides eating smart, keep alcohol to a minimum because excessive alcohol can damage the nervous system and the brain. Every time you reach out for an extra glass of alcohol, consider drinking two glasses of water instead,” Dr Ouma says.
Exercise your body
A sedentary lifestyle is the gateway to all forms of diseases such as, heart disease, obesity, type two diabetes, all of which are risk factors for dementia.
Wilbroad Makumbi, a physiotherapist, advises, “If you have a job that requires you to sit for most of the day, make an effort to get up and move around every 30 minutes. Alternatively, exercise your body for at least 30 minutes a day.”
The exercises can be as basic as taking a walk around your office or neighbourhood at home. Exercises do not only keep you fit; they refresh you mind.
Social engagement important
Experts say that being comfortable with our own company is a commendable effort. However, being alone all the time may graduate into a feeling of loneliness. With friends around you, you can engage in diverse conversations and walk down the memory lane of your past experiences.
Since no one thrives in isolation, increase your engagements with other people. This should not only be restricted to social media; one needs face-to-face conversations as well.
If you are one of those people who do not make friends easily, join a church, clubs or social groups that offer community service. That way, you will always have people around you.
Believe in yourself
Myths about aging can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better when the messages are positive about memory preservation into old age.
People who believe that they are not in control of their memory function are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills.
If you believe you can improve and you translate that belief into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.