From a Doctor’s Point of View…A doctor’s house call 

By Rivers Woodward, MD, MBA

The wave of fall came rushing across our mountains once again, splashing maple-orange, birch-yellow, and deep oak-red across the ridges with abandon. For many, the crisp mornings and brilliant autumn days were a welcome respite from the heat of summer. For others, fear of shortened daylight and the cold of winter shadowed any present enjoyment. Finding peace and accepting change that is beyond our control often feels like a herculean task. Yet, when change is inevitable, in seasons, in our aging bodies, or our evolving community, resisting almost always increases our own suffering. 

Many of us have witnessed a loved one’s cognition and memory begin to decline. Others have taken on responsibility for a father or mother’s care entirely when their health begins to wane. This is often when we begin to contemplate what we want for our own health as we age – both what we hope for and what we fear the most. These are important conversations to share with loved ones and with your doctor. Genetically, we are all dealt a hand of cards, we can’t change the cards and wishing to do so is like trying to prevent winter from coming. Where we do have choice, is in how we play the cards we have been dealt. 

When it comes to preventing or delaying memory loss, much is yet to be discovered. There is no “silver bullet” medication to prevent dementia. The challenge in studying interventions for memory is that it is difficult to control for all of the interrelated variables and it is a process that takes many years to develop. The activities that are most likely to help, also carry significant benefit for other organs in your body such as your heart. 

Exercise regularly: We often think of exercise as a way to help lose weight, prevent heart attacks and strokes. But some evidence suggests that maintaining physical activity – particularly throughout midlife – may help us to maintain healthy brain function. Additionally, exercise helps to control blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight which have both been shown to reduce the chance of small artery damage to our brains. 

Eat leafy greens and fish: There is no one diet that prevents memory loss. Supplements such as gingko have not proven beneficial as initially hoped. Eating a balanced diet full of green vegetables is likely helpful. Each year the pendulum swings on fish oil – helpful, hurtful, neither? The most recently literature suggests that omega 3 is best obtained through the diet and not through concentrated supplements: eat your fish, your almonds, your small avocadoes. 

Spend time with others: We know that social interaction and conversation is beneficial for cognition. In interacting with others, we engage in the decoding of language and emotions and are then tasked with generating an appropriate response. Additionally, social connection has been studied extensively and been found to be beneficial, not just for such logical things as dementia or mood, but also for heart disease and strokes. As memory fades, it is often easy to draw back from social situations, but community is more important than ever. 

Address hearing loss: If hearing loss is present, it is likely that addressing it is beneficial for our cognition. While studies are mixed, the logical connection is that, when our hearing decreases, we are less likely to engage as an active participant in conversation – particularly in group settings.

Sudoku and crossword puzzles? Many popular companies have advertised their products touting cognitive games as the key to maintaining memory. There is no evidence to support these products’ claims. That being said, if you like crossword puzzles, sudoku, or other games, these activities may be beneficial. If they feel like a chore, do something else. 

So as the final leaves clinging to the oak trees come falling down with cold gusts of early winter, let’s not spend time lamenting the loss of fall: let’s put on warm clothes and go for a walk, add salmon to the Thanksgiving menu, and soak in the togetherness, warmth, and conversation that this season holds. 

Dr. Woodward is with Blue Ridge Health, Lake Lure.

Leave a Reply