Keeping brain healthy might avoid memory issues later

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Let's talk about brain health. Are you concerned about losing your short-term memory? Did your mom, dad or grandparents have dementia issues? If so, how old were your parents when they passed away?

Your family DNA can provide a potential blueprint for what might be your future as it relates to overall brain health.

When I was in my early 50s, I realized my mother's personality had started to change. She became somewhat paranoid and combative and had a hard time expressing herself. My mom was 78 at the time, and she had been retired from teaching for 16 years. My mom wasn't a reader and didn't have a hobby. She didn't volunteer. She had no particular "passion" to pursue so other than taking sightseeing trips with my dad, so her overall interaction was limited. She was social, but rarely initiated relationships.

For the brain to function at its best, it needs to be exercised, just like any other muscle in your body. If the brain is not worked, atrophy sets in and soon it loses the capacity to perform.

This is what I contend happened to my mother. She raised three kids, went back to work teaching grade school, retired, and, all of a sudden, didn't have an outlet to exercise her brain.

Now 87, my mom lives in the memory care wing of a retirement community in Williamsburg, Va., and my dad is in assisted living. Her overall health is fairly good, but her brain health has been dramatically compromised. We can't have a normal conversation, which is sad.

I've come to grips with my new reality. Could it have been any different? Maybe.

My grandmother (Mom's mother) suffered from a similar illness as my mom. When she was in her 70s, she started having serious memory lapses. In those days, she was diagnosed as "senile."

As a very young kid, I was told that when you get old you lose your memory and say crazy stuff, and 70 was considered old back in the early 1970s.

Today, based on clinical research, science confirms you actually can improve your brain's functionality by exercising it. There are several ways to do this, including physical aerobic exercise like walking, running, biking and rowing or weight training. Both initiate the heart pumping and send oxygenated blood flow to the brain.

A healthy diet is also critical for brain health. Make sure unhealthy foods, like candy, cakes and sugary soft drinks, are consumed only in moderation. Writing and reading, for both entertainment and comprehension, are "brain builders," as are playing a musical instrument or learning a new craft.

I feel the key is to stay engaged, to have a purpose each day you wake up. How are you going to help people? What is your passion, and who is your audience? Volunteering is powerful. You must be around people, young or old, in order to see the tangible evidence of the time you committed to helping others.

It's only a matter of time before new technology is introduced that will allow folks to exercise their brain frequently in a controlled environment - like their own living room, but until that day comes, we must live an active life, not a passive one.

Trade the TV for a good book, always walk whenever you can and force your brain to concentrate whatever the task at hand. The more you use it, the better your brain will work!

Joe Agee is the marketing and sales director for The Seabrook of Hilton Head. www.TheSeabrook.com

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