My beautiful, talented, super-successful mother, my beloved Emily, died from it twelve years ago. And, truth be told, ever since then, even though I’m not yet at an age where I should be too worried about it — I am! There is, after all, early onset Alzheimer’s. So every time I can’t find my keys or I’m madly looking for my lost cell phone — only to discover that I happen to be on it at the time — I fear the worst.
“How do I know if I have Alzheimer’s,” I recently asked a top neurologist. “I tend to lose things and it’s beginning to upset me.”
“Well, ” he explained, “everyone loses their keys, for example, every now and then. But it’s when you are actually holding them in your hand and you don’t know what to do with them, then you should begin to worry.”
That made me feel a little better. By the time I get to that point, I reasoned, I probably won’t even care what my keys are used for, anyway.
That said, though, whenver I hear or read something about Alzheimer’s, I take notice. And today I received some information about a challenge that was brought to my attention by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America that I wanted to share with Intent readers.
Just like giving every other muscle in your body a workout, giving your brain one, as well, is essential for a healthy lifestyle and successful aging. So much so, experts emphasize that people of all ages should exercise both their bodies and brains on a daily basis.
Furthermore, research now suggests that regularly engaging in activities that stimulate the brain such as doing crossword puzzles, playing chess or reading, may help improve memory, enhance motor skills, and reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s to begin with. At a time when the incidence of this disease continues to impact more of the nation’s aging population, our lifestyle choices – especially those that boost brain power – have never been more relevant. There is, alas, no cure at the moment for this brain disorder which today affects 5.1 million Americans, so many of us are desperately searching for ways to help age without issue.
“One way to exercise the brain is to do specialized puzzles requiring a higher-than-normal amount of concentration, sort of like a jogger running a sprint every so often,” says Merl Reagle, whose popular Sunday crossword is syndicated in 45 newspapers across the country.
Reagle recently teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America for the 2d annual National Brain Game Challenge, an online Sunday crossword competition to help raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and lifestyle choices that promote brain health. The competition starts September 30 and contestants will have 24 hours to solve a puzzle created by the puzzle master himself. They will also have a chance to win $2,500. Registration is $25 and the proceeds go directly to support the organization’s mission.
Reagle knows a thing or two about how to keep our brains sharp; he created his first crossword at age 6 and sold his first puzzle to the New York Times at age 16. But he also knows first-hand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. He and his wife were caregivers for his mother-in-law who had the disease. And just this year, Merl’s own mother was also diagnosed with it.
“The National Brain Game Challenge is a chance to put all of that stored-up word-game knowledge to the test—with the clock ticking—and all for a great cause,” continues Reagle, who co-starred in the puzzle documentary “Wordplay” and has been a character, playing himself, on “The Simpsons.”
As we await to take the Sunday challenge, what are some other activities we can do to boost our brain power? According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, plenty! To start you off, here are eight suggestions: Study a new language, take up the art of storytelling, visit a museum, play board games, go on a learning vacation, write letters to old friends, and of course, do crossword or jigsaw puzzles.
Above all, stop worrying that you might have Alzheimer’s. Stress takes it own toll on your body. So relax! Enjoy life and appreciate every moment. Know, too, that if we all work together for the cause, we will see a cure for this disease in the not too distant future.
For more information on how to reduce risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and promote successful aging, visit www.alzfdn.org.