As I was growing up my mother worked in Aged Care – she still does, and we lived next door to the nursing home. After school and during school holidays I spent a lot of time with the residents. At first, I was visiting and keeping them company but as I got older I started to work either as a cleaner or in the activities room. I loved all the oldies and their stories of days gone by. Oh, there was short term memory loss and conversations held three or four times over but I think I kept them entertained and brighten their day a little.
A small wing of the residence was dedicated to those with dementia. This wasn’t the slang term for dementia used in society for when someone forgets where they put their keys, this was full blown medical dementia; notably Alzheimer’s (there are a few different types of dementia). The residents with dementia had progressed to where they required assistance with everyday tasks, not through frailty but simply because they had forgotten how. Can you imagine looking at a fork and not knowing what to do with it but something inside you tells you that you should know what this strange looking thing should do? Or looking at your visitor wondering why they are so familiar with you, hugging, kissing, touching your things, but to you they are a total stranger invading your space?
We all have fears in life; mine is Alzheimer’s. Without a doubt.
So, as a young teenager, I started to ask questions and read anything I could about this insipid disease – we didn’t have the luxury of the internet back then.
The number one prevention of memory loss which kept coming up was to USE your brain. Really challenge it.
Research tell us that exercise, healthy eating and challenging thinking, such as crosswords and puzzles, can all play a part in reducing the onset of dementia. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but I remember my teenage-self thinking; ‘Right that’s it, I’m not going to let this happen to me’.
Until we find a cure we will not have a firm prevention strategy but the Alzheimer’s Association recently published a document which tells us a few observations about prevention.
- Physical exercise promotes growth and survival of cells in the brain and is associated with less shrinkage with ageing
- People who participate in more social activities, have, on average, a lower risk of developing dementia
- Important nutrients for the brain are best obtained through enjoying a healthy, varied diet.
- One clinical trial found that regular walking led to an increase in the size of the hippocampus (part of the brain)
- Physical activity promotes healthy blood vessels, improving blood flow to the brain to help it function well
- Lots of mental activity is linked to less shrinkage of the part of the brain critical for memory
- Higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of dementia
- In a recent Australian trial with people over 50, a 6-month program of physical activity saw improved memory and thinking
What does all this have to do with Pilates? There’s so much to think about!! If it isn’t challenging your thinking then I would argue that you‘re not doing it correctly.
So here are some typical thoughts which pass through the mind during a reformer Pilates session.
“Ok, relax, breathe laterally. No not like that…..there, that’s better”
“Draw the abs to the spine. Got it, now pull to the ribs. Harder. HARDER. SCOOP!”
“Even pressure through the feet. I need a good foundation.”
“Hang on, I forgot to breathe, start again!”
“Crap, I’m sticking my bum out…..SCOOP the abs, tilt the pelvis. That’s better. You’ve got this! ……shit…I forgot to breathe again”
“Phew, I’m doing well. Breathing? Check. Good foundation through the feet? Check. Sinking and scooping the abs? Check. Oh Darn!!! My shoulders are up around my ears!! RELAX. Roll shoulders down and back………and BREATHE!!”
Who needs a crossword puzzle after that??
Pilates give us the physical exercise, challenging thought processes, social interaction and a lot of crossing over the body movements which have also shown to use both sides of the brain. Combine Pilates with a healthy diet and we can do our best to avoid the dementia deterioration. I hope.
To all those helping a loved one through this disease; my heart goes out to you. I hope and pray that you are receiving the support you deserve. xx
For more information please contact The Alzheimer’s Association www.fightdementia.org.au