Many times I have watched my octogenarian mother walk to her bedroom only to come back empty- handed and bewildered. Then she would look me into the eye and ask, “What was I looking for?”
Occasionally she forgets what she has forgotten. It is a frightening place to be.
This age-related forgetfulness has been creeping in slowly and her only consolation is that she is still mobile, independent and remembers the names of most the people around her. We both know what this is all about and that it will get worse as time goes by. I try to reassure her, encourage her to use her brain by reading some of the books she has collected over the years. Being a traditional Catholic, she has many books about the Church in Uganda and about the Uganda martyrs. I have been encouraging her to read all these books mainly to engage her brain and slow down the age-related memory loss. I know very well that just like any primary school child who assumes that the teacher knows everything, my mother would trust her physician more than me. So each time she visits her physician, he reminds her of the need to keep her brain active.
“We age differently. As we grow old, the brain function declines,’’ he has explained to her a number of times. “Like any muscle in your body, the brain cells need to be stimulated. The more you engage your brain, the slower it takes its function to decline.
She has taken this as a law so she will not allow anyone to help her find a contact in her phone. So far so good. She is concerned about the body aches but content that she can do many things for herself.
The physician advised her to spend at least thirty minutes exercising every day. Physical activity improves mood and sleep. Exercise stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of the brain cells. He advised her to eat the oily fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acid at least three times a week. The Fatty acid improves central blood flow and reduces inflammation. She also takes a supplement of Omega 3+6+9. He advised her to eat plenty of spinach and kale for Magnesium and Zinc necessary for good brain function.When the physician and his patient are discussing such important issues, I the attendant fall silent.
“What about prayer ?’’
“It relaxes your body and mind so it is good for you too.’’
Juan Rulfo said: “Nothing can last forever. There is n’t any memory, no matter how intense that does n’t fade out at last.’’
As we travel back home, my mother is scrolling through her phone contacts quietly. It gives me time to think of what I have taken from the whole experience. Twenty years from now, I could be where my mother is now. However, I could slow down the brain aging by keeping the brain as active as possible. I could take up some new skills or even learn a new language like Swahili. Thankfully, filling crosswords is one of my staples. “What about trying SUDOKU , the number puzzle video game?’’ I ask myself out loud.
I have been a voracious reader since the age of six and now I am doing a lot of writing. I believe my brain must have grown big enough to resist showing signs of memory loss for long.
Suddenly I remembered that my youngest son installed a Brain Workout CD from the HAPPY-neuron Website on my Desktop four years ago. I should even be ashamed to admit to you that I have never gone beyond “Warm Up” training exercises. From Warm Up, there are Coach exercises: chosen for me by my Brain Workout coach. These are followed by “Challenge” to test my skills. At the end I was to get a personalized analysis and feedback from the website.
I shook my head in disbelief, “Sure, I’ve never begun. I need to do more with my mind to slow down age-related memory loss and maintain mental function. It is my life and the choice is entirely mine.
As they say : Forewarned, forearmed.
Norman Doidge said: “Not all activities are equal in this regard. Those that involve genuine concentration- studying a musical instrument, playing board games, reading and dancing- are associated with lower risk for dementia. Dancing which requires learning new moves, is both physically and mentally challenging and requires much concentration. Less intense activities, such as bowling, babysitting and golfing are not associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s.’’
I would add that like learning a foreign language, the earlier you start the better.
Thank you for reading this post. Kindly leave a comment about it and feel free to share it with family and friends. The biological clock is ticking and demands that each one of us prepares for the future.