Do you worry about your brain health declining as you get older? Most people do.
And members of the Hispanic community have as much reason as anybody else: We have a higher rate of Alzheimer’s disease than the overall U.S. population, and many of us have risk factors that could spell trouble when we get older. But we shouldn’t be passive about it. Most people can do more to stay sharp as the years add up.
Do you worry about your brain health declining as you get older?
My own family illustrates the challenge. I remember my Tía Ramona as a smart, dedicated and loving woman, living in an apartment filled with children’s books. She had been a teacher in the Dominican Republic. Then, after moving to New York, she ran a child care program out of her home, teaching many kids how to read.
But about nine years ago, Ramona was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now, in her late 80s, she needs help with the basic activities of life.
My mother is still vibrant at 75. But like Ramona she has diabetes, which is a risk factor for cognitive decline. She is starting to worry that she can’t remember things like she used to.
Looking back on my life, I think about how my family members could have benefited from education and resources on the basics of a balanced diet, and how the food we eat can affect our health.
This is vital information for the Hispanic community. We have above-average rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and heart disease – all risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
So it’s important to do what we can to stay mentally sharp. The good news is there are plenty of steps we can take to help ourselves. AARP points to “five pillars” of brain health, based on the latest scientific research: keeping fit, eating right, learning more, managing stress and being social.
I know it can be hard to get off the couch and start exercising regularly. If you’re like me, it helps to make exercise more social. Find an exercise partner. Go on regular walks with a neighbor or friend. Are you concerned about your mother’s fitness? Take her with you to Zumba class. (I realize you may not take Zumba, or she may not live nearby – but you get the idea.)
One of the great strengths of the Hispanic community is our devotion to family. My Tía Ramona will never lack for caregivers. She was a mother to us all. She gave so much. Now it’s our turn to give back to her. And I know others feel the same way about their loved ones. In our community, families take care of their own.
But, of course, we all want to stay independent for as long as we can. That means we should make a priority of eating right, getting exercise and doing all the things that can help preserve brain health – not just for a few weeks or a short-lived New Year’s resolution but as part of our lifestyle.
These common-sense practices are good for everyone. And that certainly includes the Hispanic community.
To learn more about what you can do for your own brain health, you can find helpful information at https://stayingsharp.org or http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/global-council-on-brain-health.
Yvette Peña is Vice President, Multicultural Leadership Hispanic/Latino Audience Strategy, AARP.