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Brain Health

“Go home and get your affairs in order…”

This is the take home message that one of my recent clients got from his neurologist, after she was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Oh yes, and some Donacept. “Come back in 6 months’ time” as her and her husband were waved out of the plush consulting rooms. Staggering… What now? What does this mean? How long do I have before God knows what happens – I lose my mind? Go crazy? What affairs must I get in order? Who knows what will happen to me? Where do I get help? What help do I need?

The shock of a diagnosis can come shattering down like a ton of bricks. Considering the images of horror that the media so glibly portray of “dementia”, most people feel that it is a death sentence. It is impossible to escape the magnitude of worries, fears, anxieties, and depression that follow a diagnosis. The helplessness, and hopelessness. Friends will be concerned for a while before they start getting on with their own lives. Loneliness takes over whilst the monstrous idea of being demented/crazy/mad turns round and round in your head. Every single time you forget a name or forget where you put your keys you are convinced that the writing is clearly on the wall.

Depression. Desperation. Sadness. At night you lie and awake trying to see how much you can remember, how much you have already lost. It is enough to drive you… well, crazy. Nothing in your life will ever be the same again. You are convinced that everyone knows, everyone thinks you have lost the plot. That they make jokes behind your back, that they no longer take you seriously. Your self-conzdence goes. You suddenly look old and stupid when you look at yourself in the mirror. It feels as if the life is sucked from you.

Dr. Google does not help, you read everything you can znd. You have no idea if any of it is true or not and pray to God that it is not. What if it is? What if you are going to end up lost, wandering the streets, not knowing your own name or the names of your children. What if, what if, what if… You can feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into depression. Despair.

It does not have to be like this. Whilst the diagnosis of “dementia” is a devastating verdict, there is life after a diagnosis. There is neuroplasticity but what is neuro plasticity? “It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences” Celeste Campbell (n.d.).

Here are some of the newest and most exciting developments in the field:

Enriched environments (saturated with novelty, focused attention, and challenge) are critical for promoting neuroplasticity, and can provoke growth and positive adaptation long after the “critical learning period” of early childhood and young adulthood is over (Kempermann et al., 2002; Vemuri et al., 2014); Chronic insomnia is associated with atrophy (neuronal death and damage) in the hippocampus, while adequate sleep may enhance neurogenesis (Joo et al., 2014).

As few as ten one-hour sessions of cognitive training over zve or six weeks have the potential to reverse the same amount of age-related decline that has been observed in the same time period (Ball et al., 2002);

Physical activity and good physical ztness can prevent or slow the normal age-related neuronal death and damage to the hippocampus, and even increase the volume of the hippocampus (Niemann et al., 2014);

Chronic insomnia is associated with atrophy (neuronal death and damage) in the hippocampus, while adequate sleep may enhance neurogenesis (Joo et al., 2014).

So, let’s us send people home with a new directive: go and do everything in your power to improve your brain health! There are some wonderful resources and research that can help towards optimal brain health!

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