Avoid head injuries, don't smoke, be positive, get some sleep, be lucky, inherit good genes

Working to maintain lifetime memory sharpness requires never-ending diligence.

The prescription: Inherit positive genes. Stay active – at all ages. Eat responsibly. Get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Exercise regularly. Have a ongoing positive attitude. Read for pleasure. Avoid smoking. Keep using and developing your physical and mental skills. And, finally, be lucky.

"Whatever your age, stay active," saids Irene Simmons of Fairwinds Desert Point. "Keep going. … keep going!"

"Avoid head injuries," offered Mary Orleans of Clare Bridge. "With so many 'extreme sports' (like the Olympics' halfpipe, mogul and downhill skiing competition) these days, those injuries can plague a person in so many ways."

Both are health and wellness directors at their respective workplaces. Fairwinds, 10701 N. La Reserve Drive, is a leisure community for 175 persons 62 years old and older. Clare Bridge, 10175 N. Oracle Road, is home for 38 persons with Alzheimer's disease.

Severe memory challenges sometimes can occur as people get older. Still there are exceptions to that rule.

"When I was working some years ago in California," said John Golleher, executive director at Clare Bridge, "we had one resident with Alzheimer's that was only 33 years old."

So what the three and their co-workers have to say about working to sharpen your memory does apply to persons of all ages.

"The use-it-or-lose-it axiom is very important," Simons said. "And stress, too, can cause dementia."

Active brain cells produce chemicals which keep brain cells alive. New patterns of activity can cause these cells to become stimulated, creating larger quantities of brain-enhancing chemicals. As years go by, the branch-like neurons that connect brain nerve cells tend to thin out. When that happens, connections that allow persons to do critical thinking, along with processing information and memorizing it, don't work as well as they once did.

"Intelligent 'brain games' (ie. bridge, chess, crossword puzzles, etc.) and reading are vital," said Orleans. "At any age, you need to keep your brain active. It needs to be exercised like any other part of the body."

Over the past three years, Fairwinds has been using a brain-training software called PositScience to develop better brain plasticity. "The software can heighten your senses," said Scott Haile, general manager at Fairwinds. "We believe using it has helped some residents reacquire memory skills they once had."

When persons get older, some persons have "senior moments" when they can't quickly recall facts, directions and names, among others. That's not unusual, all agree.

However, Golleher points out, some people and their families may wait too long to check with a doctor when symptoms worsen. "There are ways to lessen the severity of Alzheimer's when caught in early stages," he said, noting a majority of Clare Bridge's residents are in the fourth of six-stage Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's – the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. — is a progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually the ability to perform the simplest tasks. Most often when it does occur, it appears after age 60. Only 30 years ago, little was known about Alzheimer's. Much research and clinical trials have helped improve symptoms experienced by persons fighting the disease. But nothing has been discovered to stop the eventual nerve cell death that is essential to stem the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

And finally, a final thought on a positive genetic history. Yes, it can and often makes a big difference. If there is a history of Alzheimer's in the family of origin — especially the mother — studies indicate a son or daughter may face the same challenge in future years.

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