Johnson County Alzheimer’s experts offer brain health tips to return to ‘pre-pandemic normal’

Alzheimer's tips

Some people may have been unwilling or unable to get tested for Alzheimer's or dementia over the past year. The Prairie Village-based Heart of America chapter of the Alzheimer's Association recommends getting tested early to ensure patients can have a say in their caregiving plan for the future. Photo courtesy Alzheimer's Association.

As Johnson County opens back up after more than a year through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Heart of America chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in Prairie Village is urging folks to make brain health a priority.

For many, that means returning to a “pre-pandemic normal,” a “new normal” or whatever normal means now for families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“Following more than a year of unprecedented stress and anxiety, engaging in activities that are good for the brain may be more important than ever,” said Juliette Bradley, Kansas State Director of Communications for the Heart of America chapter of Alzheimer’s Association. “Reports indicate that chronic stress, like that experienced during the current pandemic, can impact memory, mood and anxiety. It can also promote inflammation in the brain and other potentially damaging conditions affecting brain function.”

Effective communication with your friends and loved ones on your personal needs and social boundaries are key to reducing stress and promoting mental wellness.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers these five tips to promote brain health and restore mental well-being:

  1. Recommit to Brain-Healthy Basics. Evidence suggests that healthy behaviors took a back seat for many Americans during the pandemic. Some of these basics include lifestyle changes for diet and exercise, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
  2. Return to Normal at Your Own Pace. Some may feel eager to return to “normal life” following the pandemic, while others may feel anxious. Take small steps, and set boundaries if necessary and communicate your preferences to others in your social circles.
  3. Help Others. Research shows that helping others in a crisis can be an effective way to alleviate stress and anxiety.
  4. Unplug and Disconnect. Technology has helped folks stay connected through the pandemic, but it also creates fatigue. Set limits on your screen time, avoid carrying your phone everywhere, and disconnect at bedtime.
  5. Control Your Stress Before it Controls You. Prolonged or repeated stress can wear down the brain, leading to serious health problems including memory loss and increased risk for dementia. Check out these tips to manage stress for caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Joseph Lange, an Overland Park resident and volunteer community educator with the Heart of America chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, agreed with these tips, saying that learning new things, volunteering and helping others are all vital activities to help with brain health.

These activities can also help patients and caregivers alike reduce their anxiety and stress.

“Those are all good things to keep the caregiver and the person receiving the care to manage that anxiety and at the same time, be able to have some cognitive exercise and brain exercise, as well as from a social standpoint, being able to communicate with other folks and process what they’re saying to you and how they’re saying to you,” he added. “Those are all things to keep your mind active.”

Get checked for Alzheimer’s and dementia

Volunteering, learning new things and helping others are all good activities to help reduce stress, promote good brain health habits and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Photo courtesy Alzheimer’s Association.

Meanwhile, those who have avoided the doctor or have been unable to see one during the pandemic should consider making that a priority this year in order tog get tested for Alzheimer’s.

“Obviously, it’s been very detrimental to being able to get our information out to the community, but it’s also been detrimental to those people who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s to go out and get diagnosed,” Lange said. “In the early stages of the pandemic, you couldn’t go see a doctor, practically, right? And it’s so vital to recognize the early stages of Alzheimer’s and to get a diagnosis early on, because if you do that, then you can start to plan your future.”

Lange, who cares for his aunt in Omaha, Neb., who has been diagnosed with dementia, said an early diagnosis can help families work together to create a caregiving plan.

Click here for additional information on 2021 facts and figures for Alzheimer’s and dementia.