One day, I realized that my grandmother is becoming increasingly forgetful. She forgot about where she placed her glasses, about what she ate for lunch; and sometimes, she even forgot about me as her grandson, or mistaken me for my dad. She also became increasingly disoriented and confused about time and day and would wish me “Merry Christmas” in the month of July. The immediate thought that came into my head was – “oh dear, my grandmother is getting old and forgetful”.
We often attribute forgetfulness, confusion, or sometimes even changes in mood and behaviors to aging. We often see these occurrences in people as part of growing old. We see aging as the process of degeneration. When machines get old, they get rusty and their function and capacity get compromised. Like machines, when a person gets older, changes occur in all parts of the body including the brain. In the past decades, researchers have learned a lot about the changing brain in healthy aging, which includes the shrinking of certain parts in the brain that are related to learning, memory, planning and other complex mental activities. Other changes in the brain includes blood vessels, increased brain inflammation; and in some people, structures known as plaques and tangles develop, which may then lead to a systematic breakdown of the brain’s functions.
If you have not already known, these symptoms mentioned above are the early warning signs of Azheimer’s disease. Although developing an Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging, but the changes in the brain and the gradual degeneration of it, or in layman terms – the dying of the brains’ cells – is the cause that leads to development of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists have yet to find a cure to Alzheimer’s disease, but studies in the area of brain plasticity (that new brain cells can be formed and the structure of the brain can be shaped) have been promising in providing methods to sustain good brain function as people age, as well as to prevent or slow down the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
It has been proposed that taking care of your brain health is akin to taking care of your general health. Being a fitness enthusiast myself, I am a true believer in of that statement. I believe that exercising and proper nutrition are beneficial to our general health, including the brain. To my surprise, this may not be just a mere belief of my own, but scientists in brain research have actually found that engaging in physical and mental activities is good for the brain, as it promotes blood circulation in the brain! And with good blood circulation to the brain, our brain cells are not only protected from dying, it also promotes neurogenesis, which is the forming of new cells in the brain! This is exciting because it is doing the opposite of what Alzheimer’s disease do to our brain. On top of that, studies using mice have indicated that physical exercise can help break down the plaque formed in the brain, which is responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. The implication of the study is promising to reversing Alzheimer’s disease in human!
If I have had known this information much earlier, I could have engaged with my grandmother differently. Perhaps I would make it a priority to take her for walks at the park. However, I realized it is not too late. I am now equipped with strategies and information that can keep my family healthy. So what are you waiting for? Start cultivating a lifestyle habits to maintain or even improve your health as you age!