My grandma died of Alzheimer’s disease in November.

Actually, no, I’m lying to you. Technically my grandma – all that she was, believed in, and stood for – died quite a while before November 2014. The last time I really saw her was in February 2011. I took her out for lunch just before I moved to Melbourne and as we parted she started to cry and said “Will I ever see you again?”. Of course I replied that she would. But as it turns out I was wrong. The next time I saw her, merely 6 months later, Alzheimer’s disease had stolen her. Her daggy sense of humour, fierce intellect and passion were confused, distressed, gone.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is always tragic but when it conquers a livid mind, it has that extra bit of sting.

My grandma was born in the 1920s and grew up during a period where women’s education was considered frivolous. In spite of that, she achieved tertiary education and was so (SO) proud or her teaching qualification. She was an active member of the CWA, had a term as president of the Embroiderer’s Guild and spent all her free time stitching exquisite works of art.

We failed my grandma a little bit. We noticed she was losing her spark but just assumed it was because she was old. She stopped socialising, spent less and less time on the activities she used to enjoy. She also became just a little forgetful, very slightly befuddled – her memory had always been razor-sharp so this change was only very slight. It all came to a head when she was booked in for a hip replacement. She rang my parents the week before it was scheduled to ask why they hadn’t arrived to take her to hospital. Alarm bells rang for me and they took her to get checked out- her GP didn’t pick anything unusual and she went in for surgery. The hip replacement went well but she, her essence, never recovered. She was hopelessly confused for days after the anaesthetic and couldn’t understand why her hip hurt. She never really came back out of that place. There was no hope of her ever going back to her unit and so she was transferred to a (lovely) nursing home while we waited for her body to catch up with her mind.

I know that sounds callous but I felt so much relief when she finally slipped away peacefully in November. She was so much more than that scared, confused little shell. She would have detested what she had become.


5 steps for a healthy brain

I was recently invited to a “Your Brain Matters” trivia night run by Alzheimer’s Australia. It was to celebrate Brain Awareness Week back in March. I wanted to write about this because I think we often forget how important it is to keep our brain healthy. Plus it is so easy!

Alzheimer’s Australia has developed the “Your Brain Matters” program based on scientific evidence to suggest that leading a brain healthy life may help reduce the risk of developing dementia (and a host of other conditions) later in life. It can be summarized in 5 simple steps:

Look after your Heart

This one is pretty self explanatory. Cardiovascular health is essential for brain health – your brain needs oxygen and it’s the blood vessels that get it there. So it’s important to maintain a healthy weight and get your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checked and treated if necessary. It’s also really important to give up smoking (if you smoke that is).

Do some physical activity

Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, helps assist with cardiovascular health and stimulates the growth of brain cells and the connections between them.

Mentally challenge your brain

And I don’t mean just do a heck of a lot of Sudoku. Challenge yourself, take part in a range of activities, learn something new; keep those neural pathways firing.

Follow a healthy diet

Being a food blogger I’m going to come back to this one in a second

Enjoy social activity

Yep, hanging out with your friends is good for your brain and it can also help reduce stress and depression. Fun is important.

Speaking of fun, team Hippocampotami won the trivia night. Here’s us with our trophy 🙂

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Looking back at these steps for a healthy brain, I can see where perhaps my grandma might have gone wrong. In the lead up to her diagnosis she had become less physically active, and had withdrawn from socialising.

She also didn’t eat terribly well. The brain consumes about 20% of our daily base calorie intake, that’s a lot of energy for one little organ. We need to make sure that our brain is getting good quality fuel too. That means a diet rich in antioxidants and good fats, particularly the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish.

The other good news is that light to moderate alcohol consumption may help keep your brain healthy too. #wineblogger 🙂

I thought I’d put together one of my favourite Sunday night recipes for you. Perfect to recover from the indulgences of the weekend and full of nutrients to prepare you for the week ahead. Plus it’s full of brain food: salmon for omega 3, broccoli and kale for folate, blueberries for antioxidants and kumara and brown rice for yummy low GI energy.

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If I could give you one last little take-home (in addition to the healthy brain steps) it would be to look out for signs of dementia in your elderly loved ones, don’t dismiss them as just signs of old age. Ask for a referral to a geriatrician if the GP doesn’t appear to be taking memory loss or confusion seriously. There are medications that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease but they cannot bring back what is lost. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key.

For more tips on keeping your brain healthy, check out Your Brain Matters

Balsamic blueberry glazed salmon bowl
Serves 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
45 min
Total Time
55 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 small kumara (sweet potato)
  2. 1/2 cup brown rice
  3. 2 big handfuls kale
  4. Half a head of broccoli
  5. 2 salmon fillets
  6. 2 Tbsp pepitas
  7. 100g/3 oz. blueberries
  8. 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  9. Extra virgin olive oil
  10. 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 220C/430F
  2. Peel and slice kumara into 1 cm discs
  3. Drizzle kumara with olive oil and bake for 15 mins at 220C/430F
  4. Meanwhile cook brown rice according to pack directions
  5. Cut broccoli into florets and roughly chop kale
  6. Place salmon on an oven safe dish and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil
  7. After kumara has cooked for 15 minutes reduce temperature to 200C/390F and add salmon to oven. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from oven to rest for 5-10 minutes
  8. Put broccoli on to steam
  9. Place blueberries and balsamic in a small saucepan and cook over low to medium heat until the blueberries break up and become syrupy.
  10. Lightly toast pepitas on a dry frypan and set aside
  11. Sauté kale in olive oil until tender.
  12. Place rice, kale, broccoli and sweet potato in bowls. Sprinkle with toasted pepitas and drizzle with olive oil.
  13. Place salmon fillets on top, spoon over blueberry glaze and add a squeeze of lemon to taste
Champagne and Chips http://www.champagneandchips.com/

Disclosure: We attended the trivia night free of charge. Big thanks to Alzheimer’s Australia and Porter Novelli for inviting us.

34 Comments on 5 steps for a healthy brain

  1. What a delicious and healthy looking meal! So true we need to look after ourselves as much as we can. This salmon bowl looks like the perfect way to start!

    • Family history is always terrifying. We are just lucky that medicine is constantly coming up with so many wonderful new treatments. I’ve seen some really good results with Alzheimer’s drugs (in my time as a Pharmacist) and by the time your kids are at risk (ages and ages and ages away) I’m sure treatments will be amazing.

  2. Thanks for sharing an important message and such a delicious recipe! Bless your nan, I wonder what comment she’d leave if she was reading your blog now… (CWA – I bet you got all her cake genes!) xx

  3. This is such an important post. What a lovely nan you had – I bet she’s so proud of you. You’ve reminded me that it’s been way too long since I’ve had salmon. Must make this!

  4. Your Nan sounded fabulous! Such good information on Alzheimers. I just finished reading “Still Alice” about early onset Alzheimers, such an awful disease for everyone involved. I love your salmon recipe, all my favourites in one dish will be making it for sure!

  5. Nicole I love this post.
    2 of my grandparents had Alzheimer’s too. It really is a disheartening experience to see people you’ve always looked up to crumble before your eyes and then to see your parents so sad struggling with visits to a parent that no longer recognises them, it was so heartbreaking to see.
    You’re Nan would be very proud of you for writing this post and such a delicious recipe. Have a beautiful weekend xx

    • Thank you Dannielle.
      That must have been a very tough time for your family. Such a sad illness, although all illness is sad. I’m very grateful that my grandma only suffered for a few years. N x

  6. My Mum has advanced Alzheimer’s…it has been almost 15 years since she was diagnosed and 7 years since she has been able to walk, talk, feed herself or recognise her family. No wonder they call it the long kiss goodbye. Thank you for sharing your story. Much love to you and your family xxx

    • Oh Mel, I’m so sorry to hear about your mum. That must be so very tough, have you got someone to talk to about it? There are some good support groups around. Much love to you and yours x

  7. I am so sorry about your Grandmother Nicole – it is such an insidious disease. Thank you for shining more light on it and for sharing such an awesome recipe… and the fact that a little wine is good for us too. Bonus xx

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