The Importance of Always Challenging Your Mind (and the repercussions if you don’t)

Aug 08, 2014

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Gandhi

I just returned home from Cleveland Thursday night. I spent the evening with my dad. I took the drive up there for a visit to the Cleveland Clinic with him. He’s had some issues in recent years with memory loss among other things. After taking some tests a couple weeks back, the initial thoughts were less than stellar. The early news is that it may not be as bad as we originally thought – Alzheimer’s. Although, there’s still a chance. More tests are coming so we’ll find on in a few weeks. He was in good spirits. Maybe it was the fact that my brother Mario was there with me, along with his girlfriend Sue. I don’t see my dad that often these days as we live a couple hours apart, but it was great to spend some quality time with him. After a nice Italian dinner in Little Italy (Cleveland) and some outstanding Gelato, I felt encouraged. I was encouraged that we still have time to help my dad. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for 5 million other Americans living with Alzheimer’s. I’m not expert, but I wonder how much that number could be reduced if we made a commitment, especially at an older age, to keep our minds as sharp as they can be.

My dad retired about 15 or so years ago – he was a teacher. He’s remained pretty active physically but I’ve always been worried about him watching too much TV and sleeping. I really think that it’s caught up to him over the years. He still sees a lot of people socially and I know that’s helped him. The thing is, he’s only 72….and, to see him start to lose his memory seems way too early to me. I really think he falls into the category of not doing enough to keep his mind sharp. What if he had just spent 15 minutes a day doing something to exercise his brain in a more meaningful way. Just 15 minutes.

Here are some other stats on Alzheimer’s:

  1. Every 67 seconds in the US, someone develops Alzheimer’s
  2. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US
  3. Approximately 500,000 people die each year b/c they have Alzheimer’s
  4. In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at more than $220 billion – wow, this one floors me.

So, obviously, a very serious problem and one that I’m confident can be reduce with the right strategy in place.

In talking to the doctor, he recommended a couple key things that he can do going forward. Again, I wonder how his current situation could’ve been stemmed if these were ingrained habits all along.

  1. Exercise And, not just going for a walk – he talked about getting his heart rate up a bit. Although my dad’s worked out throughout the years, I’m not so sure he’s really pushed the envelope.
  2. Learn a new skill He called it a procedural skill that will help with his memory. Things like painting, pottery, riding a bike or even volunteering all fall into this category.
  3. Build structure Building a routine into his day will help him stay on track.

I think this is something important for everyone to do, not just my 72 year old dad. Do you have a routine? Are you learning a new skill? Are you exercising your body and mind?

To me, it comes down to one thing. Fuel. What you fuel your mind and your body with is vital in all aspects in life. If you want to maintain a strong mind, you have to fuel it with challenging things. Whether that’s reading or crossword puzzles, you keep building it – just like physical exercise. **side note – I just started doing Lumosity at the suggestion of a friend. It’s an app and online toolkit of games that test and build your brain. It’s simply awesome. $50 or so for a year membership but it’s well worth it.

I have a feeling this challenging journey is just beginning for my dad. I’m hopeful in that he’s recognized it early enough and can still maintain some semblance of normalcy. I will be challenging him to put into practice what his doctor is recommending. Remember – challenge yourself, fuel you mind, fuel your body, fuel your life with the right people and the right influences. No challenge = No growth.


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