Use it or Lose It!

March 12, 2013

When it comes to protecting the brain, it’s thought that certain lifestyle factors may help your brain to stay healthy. Neuroscientists suggest that by keeping your mind active, taking exercise and maintaining social interactions, you can help to reduce your risk of developing dementia.

The brain is a learning machine. To keep it strong, you must continually develop new skills. In other words… keep pushing those boundaries!

upgrade brain

Here are seven ways to keep your brain active and healthy as outlined by Prof Ian Robertson, Professor of  Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin…

1. Physical Fitness: Take aerobic exercise… exercise that gets your pulse racing a bit. Fast walking for 20-30 mins a day, is good for your brain and your heart. If you’re not used to taking regular exercise, get checked out by your doctor first. 

2. Mental stimulation: Do something new and engaging… maybe volunteering. Find something you love doing. Engage with other people. This is a critical protective factor.

3. New learningWe get lazy as we get older. We should all be constantly learning. Learn a language/learn to sing/improve your computer skills.

4. Reduce stress: A bit of stress is not a bad thing. Challenge is good for us… pushing the boundaries. However, prolonged and severe stress is detrimental to brain function. Find a method to reduce stress… music/self-help books/yoga/meditation/relaxation.

5. Keep socially active: The denser a person’s social network, the less likely they are to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Other people are a source of enrichment of the brain. Maintain social contacts.

6. Eat a healthy diet: What’s good for your heart is good for your brain. Eat fish (omega 3)/veg/fruits (richly coloured) and keep to a low saturated fat diet.

7. Think and behave young: How you behave and act, feeds back into your brain and changes it. Don’t adopt the behaviours of being old… stooped posture etc. Stand upright and think and behave younger than you are.

You can listen back to *Marian Finucane’s interview with Prof Ian Robertson here.

*Marian Finucane… RTE Radio 1, Saturday/Sunday 11-1pm… live stimulating mix of news, interviews, reports and discussion.


The Long Goodbye

December 16, 2010

My dear Mum died in the nursing home today.

She has gone to a better place.

Rest in Peace, Mum

In respect to my mother, no comments will be facilitated on this post.


A Lost World

May 23, 2009

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a degenerative condition. It is fatal. The disease can last anywhere from 3-20 years but averages 7-8 years. The first sign is memory loss followed by personality changes. As AD progresses, the afflicted individual becomes disoriented about time and place and tends to exercise poor judgement. People with Alzheimer’s have an increasing  dependence on others and require round-the-clock care. The personality changes, cognitive lapses and eventual demise of a person with AD are extremely difficult on both patient’s and their loved ones. All is not lost however.

My parents both suffer from this progressive form of dementia and are in long-term residential care. Their world has shrunk to tiny proportions and they are oblivious to what goes on outside their own world. Happiness comes down to physical comfort and company. Family visits are a huge source of comfort to them both.

While sitting with my Mum in the Alzheimer unit yesterday, the lady in the bed next to her was very agitated. Doreen* is normally cared for at home but had come into the unit for a short period of respite care to give her family a much-needed break. Despite being very well looked after, there was terror written all over her face. Doreen’s world had fallen apart, she was ‘lost’ and required constant reassurance from the unit staff.  All afternoon she shouted “hello, hello” to anyone who passed and it was hard not to be moved by her anguish. When my Mum fell asleep, I finally got a chance to give Doreen the company she craved. The look of relief in her face will stay with me for a long time. She grasped my hand and tried desperately to find the words to express herself but the words would not come. I chatted to her calmly and told her that I understood why she was upset. Gradually she relaxed and then the tears came.  We hugged and I reassured her that I would come back soon for another chat.  That’s when I got rewarded with a most beautiful smile. Doreen was back on track and even though I knew it wouldn’t last, it made my day.

* Not her real name


Dementia is…

February 16, 2009

Dementia is an umbrella term used for a range of symptoms that manifest in a progressive decline in a person’s functioning, caused by degenerative disease of the brain. It is characterised by a gradual deterioration in memory and in the person’s ability to carry out everyday activities, make decisions, understand information and express themselves. It may also affect the person’s mood and personality. Dementia usually has an insidious onset, with most people developing symptoms gradually over a period of years. At present, it is not known what causes the different types of dementia. Medical research is ongoing throughout the world to discover the cause and develop new treatments. Put simply, dementia happens.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia in Ireland, accounts for more than 50% of all cases; the second most common form is vascular dementia, which may be preventable. While the risk of dementia increases with age, dementia is not a natural part of ageing.

Early signs and symptoms of dementia:

Usually a person will display a number of these signs:

  • Memory loss, particularly for recent events
  • Difficulty in performing everyday tasks
  • Changes in mood and behaviour
  • Changes in personality
  • Disorientation in familiar surroundings
  • Problems with language
  • Poor or decreased judgement
  • Misplacing things regularly
  • Difficulty solving problems or doing puzzles
  • Loss of interest in starting projects or doing things

gramps-at-woodstock2Facts and figures:

  • There are currently more than 40,000 people in Ireland with dementia, with the number expected to be in excess of 104,000 by 2037 unless there is a medical breakthrough.
  • Dementia can affect younger people; currently approximately 3,800 people in Ireland under the age of 65 have Younger Onset Dementia.
  • Dementia affects the lives of nearly 50,000 people in Ireland who are involved in caring for someone with the symptoms of dementia.

If you are worried that a family member may be experiencing the early symptoms of dementia, you should contact your general practitioner (GP). The GP may refer you on to a specialist, such as a geriatrician, neurologist or a psychiatrist in the psychiatry of old age services, who will conduct a full assessment to try to establish the cause of symptoms. The earlier help is found, the better the family and person with the condition will be able to manage and cope.

For further information on dementia and on services, contact the Alzheimer Society of Ireland.


Senior Moments

January 25, 2009

hearing-problems1

An elderly male resident at the nursing home said to a female resident in a wheelchair, “Betcha can’t guess how old I am.”

She replied, “I can if you take off all of your clothes.”

So he did as she asked and she instructed him to turn around slowly.

Then she said, “You’re 95.”

“That’s amazing!!” he exclaimed.  “How could you tell?”

“You told me at breakfast.”


Where There’s Hope

January 20, 2009

wild-daffodils1

Daffodils are one of the icons of Spring. Sitting at my mother’s bedside in the nursing home where she lay motionless, I gently whispered in her ear yesterday that Spring is on it’s way. I told her about the first daffodils of the year beginning to peep their heads above the freezing ground. On hearing this news, my mother opened her eyes and rewarded me with a huge smile.

This conversation brought me back to a time when I was in a little hospital room in the UK, recovering from major surgery. My husband had returned to Ireland to sort out a business problem leaving me to fend for myself for a couple of days. Being in hospital was bad enough but being far away from home meant that I had no visitors. My beacon of hope during that time, was a huge bunch of daffodils in the corner of my room. They had been given to me by a doctor from a nearby hospital whom I’d never met but who I knew to be an old school friend of my husband. When he heard news of my operation, he picked the daffodils for me from his garden to brighten up my stay in hospital. I’ll never forget this kind gesture. Those flowers represented a world with which I was familiar, unlike the lonely surroundings in which I found myself at that time.

My mother has always loved garden flowers and although now severely disabled, she welcomes any opportunity to be taken outside in her wheelchair. We made a pact yesterday to mount an expedition outdoors as soon as the first flowers of Spring appear.

Where there’s life, there’s hope and where’s there’s hope, there’s life.


A Better Place

August 27, 2008

I knew the moment I walked into the dementia unit at the nursing home that something had changed. My mother was up and dressed and sitting in her wheelchair beside the window. I settled down beside her to chat and it was only then that I realised what was different… one of the long term residents was missing and her possessions were all neatly piled on top of her bed. Poor Hannah* had died during the night.

The other residents of the unit were all sitting staring into space as per normal and while they appeared oblivious to the fact that one of their own was no more, a sombre mood was palpable. Looking at them sitting in silence, I found it hard not to ponder over who’s turn it will be next… for that is the reality of this unit.

Alzheimer patients slowly fade away, it’s like a living death as bit by bit they withdraw from the world. The staff of this unit are very supportive of the families. We are like one big family who are on a difficult journey together and everyone supports one another. When a bereavement occurs, it affects everyone in the unit.

When Hannah’s family arrived to collect her belongings this afternoon, the sense of togetherness was powerful. We all hugged and shed a few tears and remembered the good times together. We’ve come to know each other well over the years and today’s farewell was a reminder that one day my turn will also come, to say goodbye.

My mother is one of the few residents in this unit that can still hold a conversation although she has great difficulty processing her thoughts. She loves to listen to the staff chatting as they work and will occasionally chip in with her penny’s worth.

Today, when I was discussing Hannah’s demise with the staff, my mother suddenly joined in and asked “well, is she better yet“?

I looked at her and smiled. “Hannah’s in a better place now, Mum, don’t you worry” and she smiled back at me happily.

Rest in Peace, Hannah.

* denotes a name change.