Keeping involved

Dr Cesar Rodriguez talks about ways of staying well and staying involved, even after retirement.

Professor June Andrews comments…

There are problems in finding evidence for some of the claims that are made about how to delay dementia. The research sometimes gives rise to conflicting results. It is really challenging to design a research programme, for example, that tests the effect of only vitamins and not exercise, or only diet and not stress. As a result studies appear to contradict each other because the researchers were not measuring the same things, and they were not able to narrow their focus enough. Doing research on humans is complicated because we are complicated. Before listing what is said to help it is worth noting that this gives you the opportunity to focus on the elements that you like best. Take your pick! Because most of it probably helps a bit. The thing for which there is the strongest evidence in prevention and staying well is exercise.

Active social life

  • Volunteer…there are so many reasons to volunteer. Making a difference to other people, having fun, keeping up your skills, making new friends….and you can learn. People once thought of it as being a “do-gooder” who helps other people by giving of themselves for no reward. In fact you can’t escape the reward, even if you won’t take any money for what you do. You are not filling a gap left by someone else who ought to be doing this…you are giving something extra that makes a difference. This difference would not be possible without you. Be sure to work for an organisation that offers proper induction and supervision, and ask about expenses. You’ve got skills that you can pass on.
  • Join a club. If you pick the right club you can indulge in your interest. Socialising is good for delaying dementia symptoms and reducing them. A book club will encourage you to read books that you would not normally choose, and listening to others discuss the issues that arise from the books can stimulate your thinking. The issues in a good book are universal and eternal and you can take part in discussion of those issues from your life experience, even if your recent memories are a bit hazy.
  • Taking classes is a good idea, even though it is often suggested that people with dementia can’t learn new things. You can live in the moment enjoying the experience and don’t worry about tests and exams. An example is a class that is run in the Melbourne art gallery which is specifically for people with dementia. The programme has been developed to tap into the imagination of people with dementia through multiple workshops and visits to the gallery. Art triggers both the mind and emotions. And of course, if you take lots of classes before you get dementia, it can delay the onset. Education, brain training…call it what you like. It is probably the social aspect of it that makes the biggest difference.
  • Keeping connected with family and friends offers great health benefits. It could be that just tracking them is a significant mental exercise that keeps the grey matter active.
  • Some people don’t have big families and so they rely even more than others on friends. You need to make dates and get out and keep seeing them as much as you can. Research shows that the stimulation that you get does not have to be as high brow as the Times crossword. People who go to Bingo are in better cognitive shape than those who sit at home. The complexities of organising your bus, and your pals, and the money and just getting there are a challenge in themselves, never mind keeping an eye on the numbers. The best socialising is whatever you enjoy most, because that is what you will keep up, and it is persevering that makes a difference.

Reviewed March 1, 2019