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 🙂
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.
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
- 1 small kumara (sweet potato)
- 1/2 cup brown rice
- 2 big handfuls kale
- Half a head of broccoli
- 2 salmon fillets
- 2 Tbsp pepitas
- 100g/3 oz. blueberries
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon
- Preheat oven to 220C/430F
- Peel and slice kumara into 1 cm discs
- Drizzle kumara with olive oil and bake for 15 mins at 220C/430F
- Meanwhile cook brown rice according to pack directions
- Cut broccoli into florets and roughly chop kale
- Place salmon on an oven safe dish and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil
- 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
- Put broccoli on to steam
- Place blueberries and balsamic in a small saucepan and cook over low to medium heat until the blueberries break up and become syrupy.
- Lightly toast pepitas on a dry frypan and set aside
- Sauté kale in olive oil until tender.
- Place rice, kale, broccoli and sweet potato in bowls. Sprinkle with toasted pepitas and drizzle with olive oil.
- Place salmon fillets on top, spoon over blueberry glaze and add a squeeze of lemon to taste
Disclosure: We attended the trivia night free of charge. Big thanks to Alzheimer’s Australia and Porter Novelli for inviting us.