Are You Giving Your Brain a Fighting Chance?
Questions to Assess Whether Now is the Time to Make a Change
In a very relaxed way (no judgment!), ask yourself the following questions. You may want to jot down your thoughts related to each modifiable lifestyle choice. These thoughts will help you know what to emphasize in your dementia plan.
Track your sleeping for a full seven days and nights: what you did in the hour before you went to bed, when you went to bed, went to sleep, woke up during the night, woke up for good in the morning. Do you regularly get 7-9 hours of sleep without long interruptions? Do you generally get to sleep easily and wake up at the same time each day? What is your evening routine? What do you do when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep?
How often do you move during the day? At work, do you sit most of the day? Do you have a long commute? Do you spend any time outside in the sunshine? If you do regularly exercise, what do you do, and what time of day do you do it? Where do you do it? Do you vary the kind of exercise you get? If so, how?
Track your food and drink for a week (try not to vary it from what is normal for you): How many servings of vegetables do you eat each day? How many servings of fruit? What kind of oil do you use? Do you ever eat beans and legumes (such as lentils)? How many processed foods do you eat during the week (anything prepared somewhere else)? Fast food? Foods with added sugar?
What bad eating habits do you think you have, and what do you think triggers them? What good habits, and what are the rewards you receive for these?
Do you need to do a pantry purge of foods you know will trip you up, such as desserts, soft drinks, juices, processed foods?
Do you find it hard to relax? Do you have a generalized sense of concern most of the time? Do you wake up at 4:00 in the morning and have trouble getting back to sleep because you are worrying? Does your forehead have a constant furrow? Are your muscles often tight? Are your shoulders constantly hunched? Do you often realize during the day that you are breathing shallowly? Is your blood pressure a problem?
What do you think causes your stress? How many of these causes can you control? How are you trying to cope now?
Clean water, air, and environment
How do you get most of your hydration? How many soft drinks and fruit juices do you drink each day? If you drink water, is it unfiltered tap or well water? How much alcohol do you drink each day?
Do you filter your air? Do live near a freeway or a heavily traveled road? Do you smoke or live with someone who does? Do you have concerns about mold in your home?
Consider your cleaning supplies and personal care products. Do they have the toxins like chlorine, parabens, phthalates? How about your lawn care or garden products, like Round-Up? We’ve created a helpful table about toxins here. Do you use any pesticides? Have you considered your stand on fluoride, electromagnetic fields, tobacco, and alcohol? Perhaps it’s time to request a medication review from your doctor?
Two fairly simple steps you can take: Purchase a filtration device for your air and water.
How would you assess your social contacts? Do you often feel lonely, even in a crowd? Do you ever spend time with other people in a social setting? Will your loved ones support you in your Dementia Action Plan? Would one of them be willing to be your accountability partner, providing encouragement and checking up on you?
Sensory and Mental Stimulation
Do you need an eye or ear check-up? Does aromatherapy as a means of calming your stress appeal to you? Do you need to quit smoking which harms your sense of taste? Would you consider receiving regular massages? As for learning, what subject or skill could you invest in—a new instrument, a deep dive into a subject in history, cooking, yoga, chess? Think of something that will challenge you.
The Illness-Wellness Continuum
As you think through these questions, remember that there’s a continuum between illness and wellness.
On some of these lifestyle choices, you may be toward Wellness on the continuum. Perhaps you have an excellent exercise program, or you already eat a diet with no added sugar.
Perhaps instead, like I was, you are much closer to Illness. I smoked, got terrible sleep, barely moved at all, was addicted to sugary cereal, and drank diet soft drinks obsessively.
Wherever you are on this continuum, it’s okay! You have the power to improve your health. Your body will help you. It wants to thrive.