Heads up! Making the commitment

Alzheimer Society encourages people to take action to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Brenda Hounam can tell you first hand what it is like to live with Alzheimer’s disease. She can also tell you what it is like to fight back.

Shortly after coming to terms with her diagnosis in 2000, the then 53-year-old began to put her brain through what she calls daily workouts, participating in activities and events that challenged and stretched her mind. Things like playing the keyboard, taking up new hobbies, and even teaching herself woodworking. She also took on the role of public speaker and Alzheimer’s disease advocate, something she credits to keeping her going, especially on the tough days.

“I believed right from the start that in conjunction with taking my medication, it was equally important for me to take care of my mind and my body,” says Brenda. “I believe it has been this commitment to keeping active and continuing to challenge myself that explains why I am doing so well, and why my progression with the disease has been slower than expected.”

The Alzheimer Society couldn’t agree more. This January, the Society is challenging all Canadians, young and old, to make brain health a personal commitment as it kicks off its 2008 awareness campaign, Heads Up for Healthier Brains!

“Research is showing that by improving your brain health, you can help to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Jack Diamond, scientific director for the Alzheimer Society of Canada. “For people already living with Alzheimer’s disease, many of these same things can help to improve quality of life, and may even help to slow the progression of the disease.”

Making the commitment to a healthier brain is easy, and can include things like:

• Choosing a healthy lifestyle – a healthy lifestyle is as important to brain health as it is to the heart and the rest of the body. Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to make healthy food choices, such as eating foods rich in anti-oxidants and in omega 3 oils. It is also important to reduce stress, be active and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

• Challenging your brain – keep the brain active every day. For example, play games, or maintain a hobby. Research has found that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections.

• Being socially active – staying connected socially helps you stay connected mentally. The more engaged you are the better. This can include taking a class, staying active in the work force or becoming a volunteer.

• Protecting your head – brain injuries, including repeated concussions, can be linked to the later development of Alzheimer’s disease. Wear an approved helmet when participating in sports, wear a seatbelt and protect against concussions.

Advocating for Change

The Alzheimer Society is taking this same message of risk reduction to the Government of Canada. As the population demographics shift in Canada, it is becoming increasingly critical that preventative measures are put into place to avoid a potential epidemic of Alzheimer’s and related diseases.