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Your loved one’s lifestyle plays a huge role in maintaining cognitive function. This includes everything from the foods they eat to the activities they participate in.

By encouraging them to practice healthy habits and mentally stimulating activities, you are increasing the quality of their years, but possibly the quantity as well.

In this episode, I discuss the importance of social interaction and a variety of ways to keep your loved one’s brain healthy and functioning well so they can enjoy life.

Here Are The Show Highlights:

  • Why the Community Approach is the single most important way to maintain your loved one’s mental sharpness (2:01)
  • How to recognize harmful interactions so you can remove your loved one from the situation (3:35)
  • The how a heart-healthy diet also keeps your brain working like a well-oiled machine (5:15)
  • Why exercise is essential to long-term brain health (9:47)
  • The surprising reason that writing can fend off Alzheimers and dementia (16:18)

For daily 5-minute mind exercises, head over and like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hcafortworth/

You can also find additional support and resources by calling Home Care Assistance at 817-349-7599 or visit our websites https://www.homecareassistancefortworth.com/ and https://itsmyturntocare.com/.

Read Full Transcript

Welcome to “It’s My Turn To Care.” We know the challenges you face caring for someone with dementia. That's why each week we bring you tips, strategies, and most of all, support, as you navigate your role as caregiver. Let's get started. [00:15.6]

Dave: Hello, this is Dave Parks with called Home Care Assistance. I'm a certified senior advisor and I own the Home Care Assistance operation here in the northern part of Tarrant County and the surrounding area. The purpose of this podcast is to give you some tips, strategies, things to think about as you maneuver through caring for someone that is suffering from some form of dementia. The name of our podcast is It’s My Turn To Care: Secrets for the Dementia Caregiver, and today I want to talk a little bit about the things to think about in the holiday season around social interaction, diet, exercise, and activity. [01:04.4]

I go around and I do a lot of activity-oriented exercises with some of the senior communities around and it really is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I can't do that as much as we used to in this COVID environment, but, hopefully, someday soon, it will clear up and we'll be able to do more of that.

But even so, still these concepts are still important and you need to do everything you can to try and keep your loved one socially active, have a healthy diet, exercise and keep their brains active. I want to talk about each one of these areas, and so give you some things to think about.

So, social interaction. If you can't remember anything else or if you don't remember anything else from this podcast, please remember that social interaction is so important. It's important for our brain health and it's also important for our longevity. [02:06.1]

There was a study done at BYU and they did a study on social isolation for seniors, and I just feel like that this is such a dangerous thing for seniors and we all need to be aware of this, particularly our loved ones. What they did was, they did this study and they determined that social isolation in seniors can be as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I believe there are 20 cigarettes in a pack of cigarettes, so smoking 15 cigarettes a day is very dangerous.

When you think about it, you can really stimulate your brain with social activity, right? When you just have a normal conversation with someone, it stimulates your memory. You have to use your reasoning skills. You have to pay attention. You have to use your visual-spatial skills. It's just so important to have social interaction. [03:07.3]

Frankly, even if you don't think that your loved one is getting much out of the social interaction, as long as they're not agitated or you feel like it's a negative situation, you need to continue to have that social interaction with them. It's so important.

We had a client, one of the first clients we took on several years ago, and he was 96 years old coming home from the hospital, and he was 96, so he had outlived all his friends. He had outlived the people he worked with. He had outlived the people he went to church with. When you're 96, of course, none of us are really sure how long we have, but the family wanted to put a caregiver in the home to try and for safety reasons. [03:59.2]

He wasn't a very social person, but we put a caregiver in the home, and they start interacting and they start doing things together. He was actually very good at the iPad, so he would show her some things, what to do on the iPad. Then they would eat together and interact. I really feel like that putting a caregiver in the home, of course, there are no guarantees to this, but putting a caregiver in the home gave him something to look forward to. It gave him some purpose. That was a little over three and a half years ago and he's still looking forward to her coming. I just feel like that really improved the quality of his life and his longevity.

Social interaction is just so, so very important. All these things are important, but to me, it's the number one thing to try to keep, because we're social beings, right, and so we need to interact with each other. [04:57.1]

The other thing to think about is diet. There are some brain superfoods, but in general, diet is all about what's good for your heart is also good for your brain. There's some brain superfoods like blueberries.

Blueberries kind of help clean out the brain. They have any oxidants in them. Walnuts, they have a high concentration of folate, and actually salmon, fish, in general, but salmon is very good for your brain. It has these fatty acids that your brain needs that it can't reproduce on its own, so it has to get it from your diet. Then, also dark chocolate is good for your brain. It can help the blood flow in your brain.

Keep that in mind when you're having a snack or you have a choice at dinner of what to eat. In general, what's good for your heart is also good for your brain.

Exercise. I'm a big proponent of exercise. I've always been a runner. I don't run as much because of the impact it has on my knees, but I do ride the recumbent bike. I try to do that several times a week and it really makes me feel better, and I just feel like it's really important for your health. [06:11.7]

To me, exercise kind of covers your physical health and it also helps your brain, your mental health, and it also helps your emotions, your emotional wellbeing. Healthy body, healthy mind, it's just important to do what we can. Now, obviously, your loved one, if they're elderly, then they're going to be limited on what they can do, but in most cases, there's something they can do, right? Maybe even if they're in a wheelchair, there's something they can do with their arms. There's something, some form of exercise. There's chair yoga, and then you can find some stretching exercises online. [06:56.9]

I would encourage you to go to a site called ElderGym.com and there's some simple exercises on there that you can do. I mean, it's something as simple as just reaching your arms out and stretching your fingers, and expanding your hand and closing them and expand and close. There's just a lot of simple exercises you can do to get the benefits of exercise.

Just think about that. Talk to your doctor. Even if you're limited physically, hopefully there's something that you can do to get some form of exercise. Obviously, walking is great. Just walking around the block with your loved one or there's just a lot of… Sometimes that creates some social interaction as well. Also, I mean, to me, when I go walking and exercising, it improves my appetite, so keep that in mind as well. [07:56.9]

I've heard all the excuses in the world on why you shouldn't exercise or why people don't exercise, everything from it's too early in the day or it's too late in the day, or it's too cold, it's too hot. It's too nice of a day to exercise. I mean, I’ve heard it all.

The best excuse I’ve got was from my own dad and he just didn't have the proper clothing. I asked him one time to go work out with me and he said he didn't have the proper clothing to go and exercise. I thought, Wow, I'm going to go get him. I went out and being the smart-aleck 16-year-old that I was, I went out and bought him the proper clothing. I asked him again. I said, “Why don't you go exercise with me?” and, of course, he knew I had bought him the clothing. He said, “I just didn't want to.”

He checked all the boxes for low risk of getting Alzheimer's disease. He ate pretty well. He was very social. He kept his brain active. He read a lot and he was an attorney. He majored in physics, so he was very intelligent, an intelligent person, very kind and he never seemed really stressed out. He coped with stress pretty well. But the one thing he didn't do was he didn't exercise. [09:16.6]

I'm not a doctor, so I can't diagnose why, but he did suffer from Alzheimer's disease for about 10 years and he really never exercised. I mean, he would do stuff with the kids, myself and my brother and sister, but none of that really good exercise to get the benefits of exercise. I know there are a lot of good reasons to exercise, but you can add brain health to that. If that's not enough, if you haven't been motivated before, hopefully that'll help motivate you and your loved one to go out and get some exercise. [09:54.1]

The last thing I want to think about. We have something called the cognitive therapeutics method that we do here at Home Care Assistance, so a lot of this is based on that, but we look at the brain in five different domains.

You have your memory domain, which we understand, everyone understands kind of what that is.

Then you have what's called the attention domain. The attention, I look at it as kind of the gateway to memory. If you don't pay attention to someone or to a conversation, or just something you're reading or whatever the case may be, while you're driving, then the memory domain doesn't really come into play because it really probably never makes its way into memory.

Then you have what's called executive functioning and executive functioning is how you think in reason, and make decisions and things like sequencing. [10:58.2]

For example, your loved one may remember that they need to brush their teeth at night, but they may not remember or they may not be able to reason through the steps necessary to brush their teeth, right? So, I need to get the toothpaste and the toothbrush, squeeze the toothpaste onto the toothbrush, put the toothbrush in my mouth, brush my teeth, rinse, put it up and all that kind of thing. If you think about it, what seems like a simple task could be overwhelming to someone whose executive functioning skills are not working.

Then another area of the brain is called your visual-spatial perception. That's just kind of a fancy way of saying it's how we see objects and how those objects relate to each other. For example, let's say you had two chairs in front of you and they're actually three inches apart from each other, but let's say your visual-spatial is not working very well, and so you kind of view that as the chairs being three feet from each other. [12:09.5]

You're walking into the room and you want to get from Point A to Point B and the fastest way to get there is between the two chairs because you perceive the two chairs being three feet from each other. You walk through the chairs and then there are actually three inches from each other. You're going to hit the chairs you meet. You could easily fall. You could hurt yourself or someone else. So this is just an illustration of what visual-spatial perception is. That's another area of your brain you want to stimulate.

The last area of your brain is your language skills, which is fairly self-explanatory. It's how you write. It's how you read. It's how you listen. Listen is more around attention, but it's how you write and read and speak, so you want to stimulate those areas of your brain as well. [13:07.6]

The thing I like to mention when I'm out talking to various senior centers is that a lot of us focus on memory, right? We think, Oh, there goes my memory, so I want to stimulate that. I want to do things to try to help me remember things better, right? There are these tricks to help you remember things and that kind of thing. I just think that that's great, that you want to. You definitely want to stimulate that area of your brain.

But what I kind of warned people about is there are these other areas of your brain that you also want to stimulate. You also want to do some things with your loved one to stimulate their reasoning skills. We do some fun things like play family feud, right? We ask a question and then you have to think about what's the best answer. [13:54.8]

Another game we play is called triple bonds, where we come up with three words and you come up with a word that combines all the kind of bonds, the three words together, so just another example of using fun things, activities, fun activities to stimulate that part of your brain. So, that's memory and executive-functioning attention.

Again, you want to do activities to stimulate your attention domain. One of the things that we do is call takeaway where I’ll put up a picture and you kind of have to adjust this based on where your loved one is, and I say that for all activities, not just this particular one.

Let's say, we put six objects in a picture and then we take two objects away and we take another picture, and then we asked the loved one. We’ll show them the second picture and we ask them, Which two objects did we take away? That just stimulates the attention domain. [14:58.8]

Another example might be we show them a picture and then we let them study it, and then we take the picture away and we just talk about the picture. How many people were in the picture? Were they happy? Were they sad? What colors did you see in the picture? There may be some details in the picture that you could ask them about.

The beauty of these activities is it's not about getting things right and getting things wrong. It's really about the stimulation. The fact that you are trying to stimulate your loved one's brain, that's the most important thing. I really want to emphasize that it's not right or wrong. Of course, for fun, you want to celebrate when they get it right, but you don't want to say, That's not right. How did you come up with that? You want to give them some hints on how to get the right answer. Frankly, if you're in an activity that's too difficult, then transition into something that's easier for them. [16:01.0]

We talked about attention, executive functioning, visual-spatial language. If your loved one is capable of writing, I recommend writing because that really exercises your brain when you write. Most of us can speak pretty easily, but when it comes to writing, it takes a little bit more effort. There are a lot of other activities around language.

I would just really encourage you to try to do some activities that stimulate these areas of the brain, Focus on a healthy diet, exercise, and of course, the social interaction we talked about at the beginning.

If you have any questions, please feel free to call our office at (817) 349-7599. I’ll be happy to send you… I have a list of websites that you can go to that focus on these different activities and I'd be glad to send you that. I’ll give you a couple. [17:02.8]

One is AARP. I believe it's free. It has a part of their website that does some of these cognitive brain activities. The other is a Lumosity and you can also check them out. They have a very similar approach to their activities as does Home Care Assistance, and I would just encourage you to try those things. You want to do things. If they're not fun and interactive, they're probably not going to get done, right? We don't want to create work for our loved one, but we do want to stimulate the brain, but we want to do it in a fun and interactive way. When you do it with somebody, you get the benefit of the social interaction as well. [17:47.5]

Anyway, I hope you’ve got a few tips from this episode of It’s My Turn To Care: Secrets for the Dementia Caregiver. I'm Dave Parks, owner of Home Care Assistance and I encourage you to visit our website, HomeCareAssistanceFortWorth.com, and our office number is (817) 349-7599.

I look forward to talking to you again after the Thanksgiving holiday and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving holiday with your loved one. We'll talk to you soon. Thanks so much. Goodbye.

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