Saring a call with dementia friendly advocates and UNR, our presenter, Tessa Swigart, gathered information on how we are educating community members on Alzheimer’s and other dementias including materials, presentations, gatherings, and special events. 

I gleaned insight from other attendees including the perception of the difference between brain health versus Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. 

Planning an education-filled day of critical information here in Winnemucca (Friday, September 17th, 2021), I have been struggling with an inviting title and now I recognize why.

The focus is aging and dementia but I know that these topics scare people. Aging, hopefully, is inevitable; dementia, however, is, with any luck, avoidable.

How do we enter into provocative conversation on these topics without discouraging those who most need to listen and engage? My initial title “Health, Wellness, Aging and More” feels lacking. 

I moved to “Empowering Yourself and Your Family: Plans for the Future”, too long. 

Next, I tried “Proactive Strategies for a Vital Life”, yuck! Sounds like we’d be creating long, entangling lists. 

Finally, I landed on “Health and Wellness: Your Brain with Its Future [Longevity?] in Mind”. What do you think? Do any of these titles invite you, your family and friends to attend? No cost! Lunch provided! Myriad guest speakers! 

Brain health is what you and I are doing now to ensure happy, cognitively-powerful days ahead. We know what is good for us: wholesome nutrition, exercise, brain stimulation, and social engagement. 

But knowing versus doing becomes complicated. Our phone conversation continued with addressing how to inspire individuals from the “Knowing What to Do” stage to actually taking the necessary steps to achieve fruition.

As member LeeAnn stated, “It’s the steps that count.” That is important — Steps. Not leaps and bounds; not hurdling and vaulting, but rather beginning with increments such as, “I am going to eat 3 servings of fruits and vegetables each day plus eliminate one negative food source 0151 sugary soda.” A step forward that’s doable in the long run.

Exercise: “I will use my Fitbit [or other step counter] and increase my steps by ____ every day.” While today I mustered only 567 steps, tomorrow and 568, is completely possible. 

Brain stimulation: Isn’t there something that you have always wished you could do? Paint watercolor scenes? Crochet? Speak Italian? 

Plan a family trip to Lake Tahoe? Each of these provide an opportunity for brain-worthy engagement.

The first three can transform into lifelong hobbies; the fourth might just motivate you to design several adventures. 

The glory of this sparkling gem might move you to walk more, swim, study geology, and learn.

Socialization: Further phone-call discussion included the famous “jellyfish” cure-all seen on television: happy people walking, chatting, reading, engaging all because of a daily pill – models Alice in Wonderland. 

A nibble here and a bite there changes everything. Big money and advertising sell a product that you can bequeath yourself free by proactively enjoying sound nutrition, grand exercise, brain stimulation, and joining others in social activities. Singing, camping, gardening, playing cards - anything involving others increases brain health through socialization.

Now to dementia and Alzheimer’s awareness and the separation between and unification of brain health and dementia. The recommendation? Do everything possible now to protect your mental capacity and to stave off the possibility of dementia or at least to weaken the onslaught.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not a preordained aspect of aging, but the likelihood grows the more years one lives and the less attention paid to brain health. Early diagnosis means a person can plan for the future while still maintaining an active, productive life now.

Early detection is valuable from a research standpoint so that brain and cognitive function changes can be monitored for understanding now and prevention and reversal in the future.

Group discussion encouraged getting people with early stage dementia to become spokespeople for the vital and impactful life that one can lead after a diagnosis. I asked about someone disclosing digressing mental acuity and thus losing a job or having a family come apart in fear and disbelief, but my concerns were dismissed.

“What about the attitude change with AIDS?” I agree – people are more accepting over 50 years later, however, it took medical advancements such as those that gave Magic Johnson a long, successful life. 

This reversed some of the stigma – people survived. Right now, we cannot offer that benefit to those with Alzheimer’s. But someday…

I sound gloomy and discouraged. A bit, yes, but I am hopeful, too.