I’ve seen enough shows on TV and read enough articles about dementia and Alzheimers to know that it is not something I want in my life, my family’s life or really anyone’s life. In short, it’s terrifying. This is not news.
When I was younger, I think I was more of a hypochondriac than I am now. I attribute part of that to life experience, of witnessing the maladies of myself and others and seeing that the overwhelming majority of them got through it ok. I’ve also tried to read a bit and learn over the years and I think that also helps to temper any thoughts I might have when I get a headache or whatnot. So it’s safe to say that I don’t feel doomed if I’m not feeling well and I certainly don’t “rabbit hole” it by doing copius Google searches if I show symptoms of something. That said, dementia freaks me out.
I recently had an MRI done. This was the first time in many years that I stopped for a moment and thought “oh gosh what if they find XXXX or YYYY and my life spirals down the drain?” It wasn’t too bad, but when a doctor tells you to get an MRI, you can’t help thinking about some scenarios! The MRI was ordered because the opthalmologist noticed an ever-so-slight difference in the movement between my right eye and my left eye and they thought it would be prudent to make sure all was ok.
And all was ok. My issue was, as thought, just with my eyesight and has been corrected with progressive lenses for my glasses, which is yet another lovely step in the aging process. Now get off my lawn!
Dr. Marc Milstein is a renowned scientist and researcher who earned his Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and his Bachelor of Science in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UCLA. I guess that makes him smart. Based on my cursory exploration around the internet, he appears to be well-versed and very knowledgeable in the area of fighting off dementia, despite looking like a smart-ass stand-up comedian. He recently wrote an article for CNBC’s website that details 7 rules for boosting memory and fighting off dementia. Here they are, along with my fascinating yet brief comments on my own efforts in these areas, along with a self-diagnosed score on a scale from 1-10.
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check – Since I’m a bit of a data nerd in my work life, some of that drips over into my personal life. Before online health portals started to emerge in the last few years, I kept a spreadsheet with the results of all my blood tests through the years, just to see if anything was drastically going up or down. Happy to report that I’m ok here! Score: 9
- Manage sugar levels – I need help with this one, people. Always have had a sweet tooth, still do and it’s hard to stop. I’ve read about these “sugar fasts” that people go on and some people even cut sugar out of their lives entirely. The latter seems like real deprivation and I refuse to consider it. I think I have to take some action on the former. Score: 3
- Get quality sleep – mixed bag here. My Fitbit (see “data nerd” comment above) tells me that I get solid sleep scores most every night, but I also only get 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep per night. Everything I read says that 7-9 hours is the ideal. That said, I don’t feel over-tired or exhausted each day, so maybe I’m ok? I think I’m more annoyed than anything that I snap awake between 5 and 5:30 every morning. Score: 6
- Eat a nutritious diet – I feel pretty good about this one, aside from bullet #2 above. I owe a lot of that to my wife, who is very focused on eating healthy – that focus for her means that the rest of us in the house reap the benefits. Score: 7
- Don’t smoke (and avoid secondhand and thirdhand smoke) – Home run here. I think I tried to smoke maybe 3 cigarettes in my whole life, the last one being in college a billion years ago. Each time was more disgusting than the previous. I won’t lie about pot, I’ve definitely tried that on and off, but that ship sailed after college as well. My parents were heavy smokers in my early years (1971-1980) so some secondhand exposure there and of course I spent a LOT of time in clubs seeing live music in the ’90s and lets not forget smoking was allowed. Score: 8
- Make social connections – despite being quite introverted, I do feel like I’m social, but it takes a while to really get to know me. I think as we age it gets harder to cement in friendships and be social, but at my current age I feel pretty good about this one right now. I’ll need to be careful as I get older, though. Score: 7
- Continuously learn new skills – Dr. Milstein says “Maintaining a strong memory is not all about brain games like Sudoku, Wordle and crossword puzzles.” Dammit! I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. I do the Wordle every day. I do the NYT honeycomb word-find thing every day. This is one area where I feel very strong, so I’m bummed when I read what he wrote there. However, he added this little nugget, too: “Learning skills and acquiring information are much more effective ways to make new connections in the brain.” OK, that makes me feel better. I do read a lot. I try here and there to learn new skills and sharpen current ones. And despite what the doc says, I still believe puzzles and word finds are beneficial. Score: 8
OK, Dr. Milstein, I’ve give myself a self-diagnosed 48 points out of 70. I feel pretty ok about that. I’d love to hear your self-diagnosed score!