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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Certified Gerontologist

Raising Our Awareness about Alzheimer’s Prevention

November 18, 2019

We all have sad stories about Alzheimer’s, a disease like none other. I watched my beloved grandmother’s mind evaporate into the ethers until she was nothing but a breathing, weighted imprint on the bed sheet. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, a time for us to share those stories and remember.

When the first hiccups in my grandmother’s brain appeared, little was known about Alzheimer’s. Ronald Reagan had it, and was being lovingly cared for by his wife, but research was sketchy and, the media gave it little airtime or print space. I first knew something was wrong with Gran when I arrived at her home one cold January morning and found the air conditioning turned down to sixty degrees. She was lying on her bed in only a thin nightgown, the bedclothes thrown on the floor. She was unable to move as the cold air had aggravated her arthritis and she was momentarily paralyzed with pain. My heart broke in half. Here was my rock, my sweet, loving grandmother, whose generosity, and kindness toward me never wavered. I had no idea what was happening to her, but I knew something was terribly amiss. Not long after, my family met with her doctor and learned she probably had Alzheimer’s. In those early days, books were our only informational source and so I read everything in print about the disease—maybe five books– and cried. And cried, and cried. I learned Alzheimer’s was a slow death sentence, as the saying goes, death by a thousand cuts. Anyone who has walked in these deerskins can tell this tale. Eventually Gran was unable to speak or recognize any of us. I couldn’t believe this was happening, and worse, that I, the A+ researcher, could find nothing, or no one, to offer any hope, because none existed at the time.

However, I never gave up my search for preventative measures. When the first information came out about what we could do to stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s (which is a type of dementia) I paid attention. I took up the piano because I love music and wanted to learn to play, and because the early research showed learning a musical instrument might be a good way to avoid the disease. Fast-forward to my second career where I became a gerontologist, and how lucky I was to have Dr. Alison Balbag as one of my professors. Dr. Balbag found that musicians develop Alzheimer’s only 35% of the time compared to non-musicians. Further research expanded on the benefits of music for our brain and cognitive function. I have written extensively about this in past posts: https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-14-i-hear-music/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-21-play-it-again-sam/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-28-make-love-and-music/

Cue to late 2019, and what we know this red-hot minute as our best protections against dementia and Alzheimer’s, and, amazingly, ways to be vibrant, as well J: HIIT exercise—high-intensity-interval-training, as discovered by my favorite girl gang, Nobel Prize winning duo Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elisa Eppel, might be the top contender. https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-2-26-slowing-down-our-clocks/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-3-12-more-is-better/

Add to that the findings of Dale Bredesen, MD, and several others who found diet to be a critical factor, along with stress reduction and increased meaningful social engagement.  https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/your-brain-on-food/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/12-best-brain-foods-for-memory-concentration-and-brain-health/    ;https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-2-19-stress-and-memory/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/our-vibrant-hearts/

If we can make the following choices, we dramatically increase our chances of keeping dementia and Alzheimer’s as merely words in the dictionary and out of our lives.

  • Say sayonara to sugar in all forms except low-sugar fruit
  • Limit alcohol intake to a few glasses of red wine a week
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet—whole grains, fish, fruits, and vegetables, olive oil
  • Make seven to eight hours of sleep a night a priority
  • Meditate to reduce stress
  • Find more ways to be happy and have fun

I really try to adhere to these guidelines. Do I fail some days? Heck yes, but as Scarlett said as Rhett walked into the darkening mist, “Tomorrow is another day.” Being aware of what makes our lives better, allows us to make new choices tomorrow.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Powering Up Our Immune Systems

November 11, 2019

Building up our immune system to fighting fitness always ranks as our first choice of defense against disease. Not to get sidetracked, but even the leaders in cancer research have finally recognized that strengthening the immune system offers the best protection against disease. (More about that in future posts.) Now, before the temperatures drop and stay down, adding these supplements to our daily routine will help us stay well. As always, check with your health care provider to be clear of any contraindications.

Vitamin C

At the top of the charts is an old favorite, vitamin C. Some of the latest stats show more than forty-three million adults from the age of twenty to sixty are deficient in vitamin C. That number jumps up drastically for seniors. Why? The short answer is we don’t eat enough fresh fruits and veggies, and the depletion of the nutrients in the soil over the last fifty years has lowered the nutrient content of our agricultural products. As many respected experts tell us, we now cannot get all the vitamins we need by simply eating the right foods. Added pollution, stress, and medications have also contributed to our deficiency.  We get some Vitamin C in our food, but now supplementation is a necessity. Taking 1000 milligrams, in 2 or 3 doses throughout the day, perhaps at mealtimes, will boost your immunity system. Don’t take it all at once, as it absorbs and is eliminated each time we visit the loo, and so spread out the doses. Try different types to see which you tolerate best. My personal favorite is  1000 milligrams of time-released vitamin C.

Zinc

Adding this mineral to your daily regime gives you an edge against illness, and it becomes a even bigger gun if you actually get sick. If a bug finds you, zinc lozenges should be a go-to. Make sure the lozenge contains at least 50 milligrams of zinc; ideally 75 to be effective, but cap the strength of each lozenge at 10 milligrams. Taking more interferes with the absorption of copper. Some great advice: pop a lozenge just before you get on a plane!

Vitamin D

New research points to vitamin D as a frontline fighter against illness. The Institute of Medicine suggests 4,000 IU a day for people nine to ninety-nine. I take that much every day.

To this list I add a great Multi-Vitamin with Minerals. To insure you are getting a good quality one, the smart money is on buying ones from a health food store, versus say, the drug store or a big box store. Talk to the store manager or people who work there and ask questions. The popular one isn’t always the best one.

If you are already working with a nutritional expert, you are in great shape. For the rest of us, these recommendations will be a good start for super-charging all your disease-fighting systems

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Keeping Your Balance

November 4, 2019

Until I pass on into the next world, I want to be independent and mobile; if I can prevent it, no wheelchairs or rocking chairs for me. I’m sure you feel the same, right? I have covered many aspects of aging which will help us stay out of those kind of chairs, and maintain our ability to get out of our favorite chair. Today, we will look at one more: Keeping and improving our balance. One of the most important little things we take for granted, until topple over for what we think is “no reason,” or can’t get out of that chair. So if you are in your fifties reading this, you might thing, “well, that’s not something I need to worry about now,” but, au contraire, the research shows balance begins to slow down in our fifties and continues declining unless we stop and reverse this tendency.

First, let’s breakdown all the elements contributing to our ability to get out of a chair with ease and walk down the sidewalk in high heels without ending up in the street, embarrassed and bloody. Balance is actually a complex whole-body exercise. Your science lesson for the day: balance requires your sensory systems, your brain, and your muscles and joints to work together. In fact, it is one of the more complex physical things we do as humans. Our sensory system is made up of our eyes, ears and sense of touch. Our eyes tell us where we are in relation to other objects, and if these objects are still or moving; our inner ear has tiny hairs and tiny nerves which work together to tell our brains the position of our head, and like the rudder of a boat or airplane, the hairs and nerves are constantly trying to right the ship and keep it in perfect alignment to the earth, standing still or in motion. Additionally, small crystals of calcium inside our ears help us sense the pull of the earth-gravity, and recognize action and movement. No small tasks for such fine hairs! Our feet and joints let us know if we are on even ground or moving across rough terrain, and our brain takes all this in and sends messages to our cerebral cortex. We then understand all this input as “Watch out, it’s dark and the path is angled and covered with loose rocks!” 

The worst part of taking a fall when we’re over sixty comes more from the psychological toll than the physical one: the fear of falling. Suddenly, we might start limiting what we do—traveling, going out to unfamiliar places, resisting new experiences, all because we begin to think and then believe, we might fall. That wheelchair or rocking chair now starts looking positively inviting. STOP HERE! Do not past GO and collect your $200 to use on one of these. There is good news, and it is this: falling is NOT a normal part of aging. Never has been, never will be. You have the power and the ability to keep your balance until the day the angels take you away, but you must, like all things, work on it to keep. Thankfully relief from the fear, and the reality, is as close as your YMCA/YWCA, gym, or rec center. Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese practice of slow, meditative movements done in a particular sequence ranks as one of the most effective practices to enhance or restore balance. It also works great on lowering your stress and cortisol so you will live longer to dance with your favorite partner. Additionally, yoga is an outstanding practice for shoring up balance, there is even a one-footed balancing pose to get right to it!

Outside of organized classes there are some very effective daily practices we can incorporate to help us be fall-free:

  • Try heel-to-toe walking as if you were on a balance beam like an Olympic gymnast
  • Sit on an exercise ball to strengthen your core and practice getting up without holding on to anything or toppling over
  • Exercise on a wobble board or Boscu ™ ball (one of those half balls nailed to a flat board
  • Practice standing on one foot while you brush your teeth—left in the morning, right one at night.

All of the above should be done once your doctor has given you the go-ahead and ruled out any serious inner ear disorders, Parkinson’s, diabetes and/or certain medications which might affect balance.

Keeping our balance throughout our lives is such an empowering, and doable thing one wonders why we don’t all work on it every day. What might be stopping you?

Until next time…..Be Vibrant!

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Food as Prevention in Stopping Breast Cancer

October 28, 2019

In drilling deep into breast cancer prevention for women, I find recommendations based on several factors. In aiding prevention for women before mid-life, prevention for postmenopausal women, and what suggestions help postmenopausal women who have had breast cancer, there exists some common approaches which are very encouraging.

Regular, focused exercise across the lifespan wins the day as the number one risk reducer. I know this seems like I never get off this one subject, but think of how many positive benefits we get from regular exercise, not the least exciting result is a trimmer figure and higher metabolism–allowing for the occasional pizza splurge, since isn’t the holy grail about having pizza? For me it is, but, I digress.

On the subject of diet, the latest research reveals some strong pros and cons for what we put on our plates. Several very large studies from both the US at the National Cancer Institute and The Oregon Health and Science University, and in China through The Shanghai Breast Cancer Study (SBCS), and including research from Vanderbilt University, indicate making friends with vegetables is a great idea, especially a family of veggies call cruciferous vegetables. Don’t ask me to pronounce it, but I know them when I see the on the produce aisle:

  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Watercress
  • Wasabi

This wide variety of vegetables can lower our risk of breast cancer (50%) and pancreatic cancer (38%), and a man’s risk of prostate cancer (46%) or pancreatic cancer (35%). One serving a day for postmenopausal women without a history of breast cancer gave them a 50% advantage over non-cruciferous vegetable eaters. That’s some heavy leafy armor. More studies are going on as I write, and I am hopeful the above finding are further supported by these study results. If the vegetables were rated for firepower, the Bazooka Award would go to the simple cabbage and humble turnip, both vegetables readily available in many, many parts of the world and still pretty much ignored by Top Chefs.  

 To give us a little protein, eat fish, but stick to low mercury fish. A list of these low-mercury swimmers is regularly updated on www.nrdc.org, the top contenders by potency: mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, herring and oysters. Red meat does not make the list, and on the big no-no list is charred (grilled) red meat. It seems that crusty, (slightly) burned areas are very carcinogenic (poisonous) for us humans and turn the breast cancer risk-meter way up.  Cutting out food which appears high on the glycemic index (www.dlife.com), something, along with insulin resistance, I discussed in my blog post Move it and Improve It of March 5, 2018   (www.LJRohan.com) can trim our risk.

The science dovetails nicely with what we know makes up a healthy diet, providing many crossover benefits which raises our resistance to breast cancer, while making our hair shinier, our skin clearer, lowering inflammation throughout our bodies, and helping us sleep better, and last, but such a bell-ringing winner, feeding our brains to improve our cognitive functions. Give those veggies a gold medal! (Cue national anthem ;-).

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall...

October 21, 2019

I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I do love red wine, and I’m married to a wine lover. I also have really cut back on my alcohol consumption, wine included, since I learned about the connection between alcohol and breast cancer.

From the Breast Cancer News website:

Just one alcohol-containing beverage a day — less than a standard drink — is sufficient to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, according to a new report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

This mega-report, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer,” brought together 119 studies and included information from 12 million women, 260,000 who had breast cancer. The study found that there is a 5% increase in risk for women before menopause, and a 9% increase for women after menopause. That doesn’t sound like much, but if there is a family history of breast cancer, or if a woman has had breast cancer, the risk more than doubles. Double-digit risk of anything is enough to give a person something to think about before she orders that frozen strawberry margarita.

In another study, The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center looked at 87,000+ postmenopausal women without a prior history of breast cancer and found that the more drinks a woman had per week, the more her risk of invasive breast cancer increased. Again, if a woman has a family history or previous diagnosis, her risk more than doubled at 14 drinks per week, or two glasses of wine a night. Eek!

 Now for the good news (whew!) There are ways to lower one’s risk. I don’t want to sound like the proverbial old harpy, but our trusted friend, exercise, is showing up as a great way to lower our risk. In the mega-report mentioned above, pre-menopausal women who participated in vigorous exercise like running, biking fast, HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training (see my blog, Slowing Down the Aging Clock  from February 26, 2018), lowered their risk by double digits, 17%, to be exact. Postmenopausal women who Just Did It with vigor, lowered their risk by a full 10%. Moderate exercise lowered a woman’s risk when compared to women who weren’t active. For younger women of childbearing age, breastfeeding the wee ones gave these women added breast cancer protection at all stages of later life.

The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that one in three cases of breast cancer can be prevented if a woman will cut out alcohol and be physically active every day. That’s good news to think about.  It’s also something we can control!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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