I love our new home on the east coast. There are a lot of amazing attractions and amenities that were not available on the west coast – most notably, our grandchildren. In spite of the fact that we are transitioning nicely into our new world, and yes, culture, there are people and events that take place back home that cause a bit of homesickness.
It is a fundraiser for the school’s arts program. The semi-formal evening is a family-friendly delight filled with dancing and desserts. A photo booth provides a memorial of the lovely almond blossom themed event.
Dancing, it turns out provides many benefits. Of course the most obvious is the physical exercise but its value waltzes way past that. According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing may be one of the best means of actually avoiding Alzheimer’s. Dr. Joe Verghese, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, followed elderly subjects over a 21-year period to determine which activities most resulted in dementia resistance.
The study revealed the usual list of suspects such as doing crossword puzzles and reading did show a 47% & 35% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, but the results from golfing, swimming or bike riding produced an unexpected 0% lower risk. The biggest surprise of the study was that social interaction of dancing lowered the seniors’ risk of dementia by a staggering 76%. Wow! Sorta makes you want to do the happy dance.
Another study, this one published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has similar results. It revealed that dancing causes the part of the brain called the hippocampus, a region crucial for memory to grow larger. The study also indicated that dancing improved balance in the elderly.
What is it about dancing? It turns out, the need for cooperation between two dancers, with one leading and the other following causes the type of quick decision-making process that makes the brain more resilient. For best results, the dancers need to learn new dances (rather than just doing the same steps over and over) and the more the better.
There seems to be something beneficial when our brains are called upon to move in a required format while at the same time being aware of everything going on around you (so dancers don’t bump into each other). Dancing is also a very social activity; the positive effects of being social have been well known for some time. It becomes especially powerful when combined with music – which is another factor in dementia resistance, associated with dancing.
Spouses who dance together may, over the years be actually watching out for one another’s well-being in a fun way. Dance clubs and senior centers offer opportunities for both couples and singles to learn new dances in a social setting.
Listen, do you hear the music? What are you waiting for? It’s time to dance!
The word for today is ‘Balance’. It’s a buzzword we hear about all the time. Balance, it seems is the key to a happier, healthier life. Keeping our lives in balance is something we all strive to achieve. Our sense of justice demands it, but an honest evaluation may reveal that we are falling rather short of the goal. When we are ‘out-of-balance in some area of our lives it can be painful. But at times, the ability to find balance becomes incredibly elusive. Trying to keep up with all the daily demands in life can have us going to bed exhausted and waking up tired.
In order to find a sense of balance in our busy lives, it is first important to define what balance actually is. One definition is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. But remember, what balance means to each of us is different. Since we all have unique strengths and abilities, we can’t compare ourselves with anyone else. Only you know when you find that mysterious spot between the rock and the hard place. Sometimes it can be difficult, and you may wonder if you can go on, but as Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.
We’re reminded to eat a balanced diet and as well as to get plenty of rest while keeping up with all our varied responsibilities. It can be enough to cause despair.
But wait! There’s hope. It turns out that little changes added to an existing routine can help pave the way to bigger changes.
The idea of balance can be illustrated by comparing it to the famous 3-legged stool.
Leg #1, DIET: For instance. Can’t find the time/energy/money to eat a balanced diet? Try bananas. According to MedicalNewsToday, Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world for good reason. Eating them could help lower blood pressure and reduce the risks of cancer and asthma. Bananas are a healthy source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. Bananas don’t need refrigeration, they are compact, tasty, and easy to peel and eat. Also, I’ve never heard of anyone who is allergic to them, they are healthy for you, and very inexpensive. If your life is so busy that you find yourself rushing out of the door without breakfast, or running through a drive-thru in order to get a meal, try taking a few bananas with you to eat and you may find yourself less hungry and able to save a bit of money on the fast-food meals. Icy cold water in a water bottle can also be a healthy and money saving idea.
Leg #2, EXERCISE: Now, for those who are currently living with your loved-one. Who has time to exercise when we’re constantly jumping up a couple of times every night to provide care, hoping to it in order to fetch items and fix meals, and springing up to offer assistance? But if you do happen to tilt toward the sedentary, it can leave a person off kilter. Adding a five-minute stretch every morning or evening is an easy add-on to your existing routine. One way is to sit on the side of your bed, lay back and stretch out your hands over your head. Wait for five minutes. Hint: it’s a bit harder than it sounds, but worth it to help stretch out your core.
Here’s another thought about balance. Usually, when someone refers to living a ‘balanced lifestyle’ they mean it in an intellectual or intangible way. But actual balance (the kind that keeps you from falling over) is important as well. My daughter, who is a massage therapist, reminds me about the importance of balance. I have a post on my blog, MAINTAINING A GOOD BALANCE that explains some of the reasons that good balance is so important.
According to WebMD, Keeping muscles fit matters: In a 2009 study of 900 seniors, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reported that those who maintained muscle strength were significantly less likely to go on to develop memory impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
In an article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, Bob DeMarco talks about discovering his mother’s trouble with balance. After he began to take her to the gym (at the age of 88), her balance improved dramatically. The article goes on to say that poor balance may indicate memory decline – another reason to work on improving balance.
I have found I can work on it every time I brush my teeth. I have one of those toothbrushes that pause every 30 seconds to let you know it’s time to change where you are brushing your teeth until the front and back of both the top and bottom teeth are brushed for a total of 2 minutes. It occurred to me one day that if I stood on only one leg for each 30-second segment, it would help me maintain good balance.
Leg #3, SLEEP: No matter how busy and demanding your day is, somehow, sleep has to happen. If your loved one is active at night, you might have to consider exploring the possibility of overnight respite help so you can get some sleep. However, according to an article by the Family Caregiver Alliance, even though Caregivers often find themselves exhausted at the end of the day, many are still not able to sleep.
You don’t really have to count sheep—you could try counting slowly to 100. Some people find that playing mental games makes them sleepy. For example, tell yourself it is 5 minutes before you have to get up, and you’re just trying to get a little bit more sleep.
Some people find that relaxing their bodies puts them to sleep. One way to do this is to imagine your toes are completely relaxed, and then your feet, and then your ankles. Work your way up the rest of your body, section by section. You may drift off to sleep before getting to the top of your head.
At times, I have trouble falling asleep. When that happens I recite Psalm 23 and try to picture the green pastures and quiet waters from the sheep’s point of view. That usually helps. If after a little while it doesn’t help, then get up and read until I get sleepy.
Caregivers typically put other’s needs before their own. But remember, it’s not selfish to get a good night’s sleep, it is essential in order for you to take care of yourself as well as provide quality care for your loved one.
Unlike the standard 3-legged stool picture, once you become a caregiver your life (as you know), becomes much more complex. Not only do you have your own diet, exercise, and sleep to consider, you now have someone else’s as well. For instance, if you have three hours to be up and ready to go to a doctor’s appointment, you may find yourself streamlining and shortcutting your own routine in order to prepare your loved one for the appointment. That’s what reality looks like right now. Remember the definition of balance is that it is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. When you thoughtfully plan out a way to shortchange your own routine in order to adequately care for your loved one, you are arranging the time required into correct proportions.
Bananas, stretching, sleeping, and standing on one leg, these are all elements of a good balancing act.
How safe do you feel? I recently took a self-defense class for women. The class was a one-day workshop taught by a Kung-Fu Master – which means he had mastered the fighting style of the Chinese martial arts. Now, if they had advertised the workshop as a Kung-Fu class, I may not have attended, as I have no desire to begin learning martial arts at my age. However, since it was advertised as a self-defense class, I thought that perhaps I could learn some things that would be useful in case I needed to defend myself.
Apparently others thought the same thing as the room was filled with women who were north of 50.
I immediately liked the teacher. He had a calm and confident attitude about him. His voice carried neither arrogance nor nervousness as he began talking about what he would be sharing with us that day.
My own confidence level increased when he explained that Kung-Fu was developed by the Chinese – who were generally of smaller stature – for self-defense. He went on to explain that the main requirements are brains and balance. It turns out that women have an additional benefit if they learn a few techniques – the element of surprise, as their attacker would likely not expect them to provide any resistance.
Even without a class, there are two things that anyone can work on immediately:
Be more aware of your surroundings: Being aware of your surroundings seems obvious, yet in the rush of our busy schedules, as a caregiver, we also need to stay attentive to our loved one, and may not always able to be as alert to possible danger. Making a commitment to becoming more aware of what’s going on around you as well as practice will help.
Maintain or improve your balance: This can be helpful for a variety of reasons, but for our discussion here, the more stability someone has, the less likely an attacker can throw that person off balance. Practice your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds – then switch to the other. You can do this almost any place or time, but be sure to have something close to grab onto in case you get wobbly.
It is also a good idea to make a plan to keep your cell phone charged at all times in case you need to call 911. An “Alert” button on a necklace would add a layer of security as well.
If it’s possible, try to find and attend a basic self-defense class that will give you the training to help equip you in case of an attack. The class I took was offered by my church but adult classes and workshops are often held at community centers or martial arts studios as well.
Ideally, never having to face a dangerous situation would be best, but since life isn’t always ideal, learning how to anticipate peril in order to avoid it would be the best way to keep yourself safe.
No one can completely avoid danger, but do everything you can to resist – the element of surprise is on your side. Then call for help.
During a recent round of physical therapy sessions, I was pleased to learn that one of the exercise sets involved walking backwards.
It reminded me of a delightful time back when my Mama, who is currently suffering from the last stages of dementia, could still remember how to walk. Mama loved to go swimming. She loved to be in the water. At the time, we had a membership at a wellness center that included an indoor pool. The majority of my time in the pool was spent walking backwards while facing Mama so she would walk frontwards as we ambled back and forth in the water. At the time, one of the attendants mentioned that walking backwards was good for the brain – it helps with memory.
Well, that was encouraging. But that was then and life moved on. Mama forgot how to walk and we stopped going to the pool.
So there I was on the treadmill set for reverse and the wonderful memory of Mama and I walking back and forth in the pool came back to me. I remembered the statement someone had said about walking backwards being good for memory and wondered if it was really true.
In a previous post, “Keep Smelln’ Them Flowers” I wrote about the benefits of brain function regarding the olfactory system with the sense of smell.
I wondered if that could apply to other senses as well. I did a bit of research on Google, and it turns out that the internet has a lot to say on the subject. I learned that walking backwards falls into a category of actions called ‘neurobic exercises’.
According to SheKnows.com Neurobics is the science of brain exercise.
Neurobic exercises in a nutshell are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. For example, turn your calendar upside down. Find a safe place to walk backwards.
A website called Physiotherapy-treatment.com provides several Neurobic exercises to try. Don’t make too many changes at once, attempt things and find out what works for you. Develop a mindset that asks, “How can I do this differently?”
Since neurobic exercises can help make a person’s brain more responsive to mental challenges, they could actually enhance the quality of life for both care-giver and those being cared for.
So, now that I think about it, perhaps Mama should have been the one walking backwards in the pool.
In future posts, we will be sharing additional ideas for neurobic exercises.