We are a petri dish, a time bomb, a tsunami, a nut house — anyway you want to look at it, our brains need attention.
A story on our front page last week put it bluntly: South Carolina leads the nation in the percentage of its population that dies of Alzheimer’s disease. That was about 2,500 people in the latest year on record. About 89,000 people in the state have the disease, and that is projected to be 120,000 by 2025.
Alzheimer’s has no cure. But there is hope.
“In my 14 months here, the most common thing I hear is, ‘I’m glad you’ll be there when I need you,’” said Sheila Strand, executive director of Memory Matters, a Hilton Head Island nonprofit that has gained national attention for how it has helped local families deal with dementia for 21 years.
“My answer is, ‘You need me now.’”
That is the new focus of Memory Matters, on top of its existing strategies: Help people keep from losing their minds before it is too late.
It will host the first Memory Matters Brain Health Summit on April 25 at the Hilton Head Beach & Tennis Resort.
It wants to rattle the brains, literally, of Beaufort County’s booming population of people age 55 and older.
They say to pay as much attention to your mind as you do your heart. You’ll turn your life upside down to address the heart. Do the same for the mind.
They mention studies by the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and Stanford University that say actions we take now can indeed save the brain. They talk about Dan Buettner’s work in National Geographic — “The Blue Zones” — that showed how the world’s cultures with the longest lives and fewest incidences of dementia do it.
They cite the advocacy of Maria Shriver, who recently praised President Trump’s doctor for including a cognitive test in his annual checkup, and talking openly about it and even urging people to take it.
They turn to the book by the summits’ keynote speaker, Paul Nussbaum, “Save Your Brain: Five Things You Must Do to Keep Your Mind Young and Sharp.”
It includes one of those brain health quizzes. Memory Matters offers them and urges people to come take it. I took one this week. Let’s just say I did not score 100.
Sheila Strand, along with board president Mike Cooke and assistant executive director Karen Doughtie, would like Beaufort County to become known worldwide as the “petri dish” — the community with an aging population that did something positive en masse to save their minds while they still could.
“We would make an attractive, long-term study for a research university,” Strand said. “We could become something like the Framington (Mass.) Heart Study, helping people to know how to avoid dementia and what to do.”
Five Ways to Save Your Brain
Here are five ways to keep from losing your mind that Memory Matters is stressing. Most of it is free.
▪ Eat better. Take on a Mediterranean diet, with plates that are 70 percent vegetables and 30 percent protein. In America, it is typically the opposite. Some general principles are to eat fish two times a week, and red meat only two times a month, if that. Use olive oil, not butter. Eat fresh vegetables and really lean proteins.
More than the food, it’s a way of life. “It’s not that difficult to start incorporating these small steps in your life,” Strand said.
▪ Exercise. Do at least 150 minutes each week.
▪ Socialize. Engage in “intentional interaction” at least once a day, even if it is by telephone. Facetime is great.
▪ Keep learning. Try to learn something new or different every week. Learn two or three new words a week and use them in a sentence. Read a book on car mechanics, or any topic you never knew anything about. On your favorite topics, read something that challenges your perceived wisdom and makes you re-think it.
▪ Cool your brain. Just stop. Chill out. Breathe deeply. Meditate. Do yoga. “I have mantras I go to,” Doughtie said, “like ‘Let go and let God.’” They suggest 20 minutes per day of shutting down the stress and chilling the brain.
If you go
Memory Matters Brain Health Summit 2018 Presented by the Dosal Family Foundation, April 25, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Hilton Head Beach & Tennis Resort, 40 Folly Field Road.
Tickets: $45, includes light breakfast and lunch.
To register: Call 843-842-6688, or register online at http://www.memory-matters.org.
“It’s Up to Me,” David Premo, TEDxHHI speaker 2017.
“Brain Health Across the Life Span,” Paul Nussbaum.
“Brain Healthy Eating,” chef Kim Baretta.
“Staying On Your Feet in Your Home and Community,” Brittany Thomas, Horizons Rehabilitation.
“How to Cool Your Brain,” Clayton Cooke.
David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale