Marjorie Horne

Senior’s column: Using your brain to change your age

Kelowna columnist Marjorie Horne talks about brain power as you age

One of my favorite passions is learning more about the brain and how it works, both to stay healthier and to create more joy and happiness in my life. Particularly as we travel through the journey of aging in the third chapter of life, we are faced with uncertainty and this alone can lead to feeling stressed.

Richard Lazarus has a definition that resonates: “Stress is a condition or feeling that is experienced when a person perceives that “demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” Basically, we feel stressed when we feel that “things are out of control.”

I remember when I had been caring for my mom for about six months in my own home and her health suddenly deteriorated so rapidly that she became completely bedridden. Despite being rather experienced as a professional caregiver, demands quickly began to exceed the resources I currently had in place. I was so caught up in the overwhelm of this sudden change of circumstances and what it meant for her and for myself and my family, two months passed before I even realized that I had to mobilize more help and reach out to others in a big way.

I look back on it now and still wonder what took me so long. Accepting the loss of what was and coming to grips with what is can make you feel like you are going crazy and you strangely wait for things to return to normal, even if it is very evident that that is not going to happen. Dr. Daniel Amen, author of Use Your Brain To Change Your Age explains, “It will comfort you to know that you are not going crazy; but your deep limbic system, where your emotions of connection and bonding are stored, is going through withdrawal from the person you love as bad as that of any drug withdrawal.” Immediately following a major loss (even when the person has not actually died) your prefrontal cortex may be overwhelmed by the limbic system (feeling and mood center) and temporarily cease to function well.”

You need to realize that you may have to radically shorten your to-do list and give your brain and body vital time to adjust. Being kind and patient with yourself and as Dr. Amen suggests: “put taking exceptional care of your brain at the top of your newly shortened and reprioritized to-do list”, deserves careful consideration. The sooner you can remember to take this step of action in your thought process, the less likely that unexpected stress factors may lead to the development of your own health crisis.

It would be nice if we all had a Stress Monitoring wristwatch that gave off a gentle signal when our stress levels are going into the danger zone. One interesting way to help identify whether you are at risk is to take the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. We sometimes need to see things in writing to help motivate us to stop and reassess what’s going on in our lives. If you wish to check out your own stress inventory go to https://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/.

Practicing good self-care and brain care when your stress or feelings of loss are escalating, is the one decision that will help you cope better with all the other choices and adjustments you must make during a difficult time. I waited too long myself when caring for my Mom and it resulted in an emergency with my own health that could have been prevented with the willingness to let go sooner and just ask for help. Key suggestions from Dr. Amen during stressful or sorrowful seasons are: 1) Eat well. Fruits and veggies reduce inflammation that lead to more pain and illness. A high protein shake can come to your rescue to increase the de-stressing hormones of norepinephrine and dopamine in your brain. 2) Take Omega-3’s, Vitamin D and a multi-vitamin daily 3) Just say NO to negative self-talk 4) Cry: Did you know that tears of sorrow have been shown to have toxins in them, whereas tears of happiness do not? Just let the grief waves flow to wash some of the pain out of your brain and body. 6) Set goals. Having a specific goal is critical for positive brain function. After that good cry, do something that soothes you and offers you a little bit of joy. 7) Learn something new that is nourishing to your soul. Learn how to fly fish (my sister did this after her husband suffered a major stroke – it was a meditative soother that really helped her), take a dance class or start singing! 8) Hydrate. Water is crucial for brain function and to remove toxins from the immune cells and reduce the possibility of infections when under stress.

One of the best steps you can take is to write daily in a gratitude journal. It is hard to really feel grateful for the good things that you have in your life and feel negative or stressed at the same time. And Nike says it best…Just do it. And by that I mean, don’t wait….reach out for the help you need. We aren’t meant to do it all alone.

Marjorie Horne is the host of Engaging in Aging on AM1150, Sundays at 9am and owner of Caresmart Seniors Consulting..

Cconnect at marjorie@caresmart.ca or 250-863-9577.