Many believe that predisposition to disease in not primarily due to genetics, but also may be determined to a primary degree by lifestyle choices, and to a lesser degree by what may happen to us throughout life that is accidental to our existence; i.e., neither a matter of choice nor genetics. If we are lucky and we make the right choices, some of us appear to others to live a charmed life. Longevity is ours for the taking. We are rarely sick, at least not seriously. But we don’t just survive. We stay interested and focused.
After childhood most of us do something interesting with our lives. Later we retire from a job usually, including the job of finishing raising of healthy children who leave the roost as capable young adults. We are usually very proud of this first part of our lives and enter retirement from our “job” pleased, but ready we think for the next phase of life. Along the way, if we were lucky, we learned how to take care of ourselves as well as others. We exercised regularly, ate a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and enough protein and fiber, had our share of mental stimulation, had sufficient good quality sleep along the way, managed stress well, and had an active social life with many good, and in some cases, life-long friends.
Still, for some, retirement represents a time of major change. There are many fewer matters to keep track of and remember. Even if you are taking on new habits and hobbies the pace of life has slowed and under those conditions some of us get a little lax, even sloppy. We were managing the stress of our previous existence rather nicely, almost to the degree that we may have thought there was no stress associated with the job. But now, we’re not keeping notes, making lists, preparing to get things done. No one is requiring a certain output level. Some days we read the paper, go for a walk and maybe we don’t do anything in particular. We become forgetful. Someone calls and we forget their name momentarily. We get through the conversation, but we wonder…”Am I losing my mind?”
Just a brief period of inactivity after retirement is usually all it takes to cause us to redevelop some form of structure. We realize that life will be different, but we need and want some kind of structure. Besides, we don’t want to lose our minds. We will have new patterns. We can work on our diet, plenty of fruits and vegetables and natural foods of course. We can work that out as we have more time now — perhaps even a garden to grow some really tasty items, our own spices and maybe even some great fresh tomatoes.
We do some form of exercise every day. We go for a walk or a run or go off on a bike (but always wear a helmet). We do some stretching excises to maintain flexibility both before and after exercise. It’s good to have a few weights, stretch bands, medicine balls or Suisse balls around the house, but going to the gym is better for you, and you will meet new
We ward off any progressive mental decline with plenty of mental activity: lots of reading and writing. Perhaps we even keep a journal or do some blogging. Whatever we do, we stay interested in the world. We go to movies, plays or lectures, take a course at the local college or maybe even teach one. In addition to writing we play some mental games, crosswords, sudokus, scrabble, bridge.
Social contact is extremely important. Stay in contact with those you know. Meet new people. You can do that in the context of any of the above activities as well. However you do it, make contact with new people.
These are all activities that will reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease or one of the other forms of dementia later in life, even if you are genetically predisposed. In general, we know that there are certain genetic markers for Alzheimer’s and perhaps for other forms of dementia that we don’t know about, but few of them absolutely require a clinical manifestation of disease. But we do know that regular exercise, healthy diet, mental stimulation, quality sleep, ability to manage stress and an active social life are all associated with decreased chances for developing dementia.