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Better Brain, Better Life: Getting Off the Road to Alzheimer’s

Updated: Jun 9

This article is based on a conversation by Kim Hegwood, estate planning and elder law attorney, and Tamara Claunch, Integrative Wellness and Life Coach who specializes in dementia risk reduction. For the full conversation on this topic, view the Life Happens podcast episode with Kim and Tamara here.

It can be easy for many people to feel hopeless when it comes to a diagnosis of dementia. Like Tamara Claunch felt, it is easy to view Alzheimer’s and dementia with a negative attitude and worry that, once you or a loved one get it, there is nothing you can do. Tamara was the primary caregiver for her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s disease and passed away in 2008. At first, it was easy for Tamara to feel hopeless and worried that her or her mother would get it. She felt like there was nothing she could do about it. In the following years, she actually discovered that those thoughts were not the truth and that there is a lot you can do to decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Out of this difficult time, Tamara realized her passion for helping people and creating hope for the future.

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Luck of the Draw?

Alzheimer’s Disease is NOT just luck of the draw. While genetics do play a part in your risk profile, your genes only contribute to about 2 to 3 percent of that risk. The rest can be prevented by actions that you take.

Kim asks Tamara, “If my grandmother and mother both had Alzheimer’s and I was always afraid of getting tested for the Alzheimer’s gene, and I came to you for advice on how to lessen the odds of getting it, how would you walk me through your process?”

Tamara answers, “For those of us with a family history, that’s always in the back of our mind. A lot of people lay in bed at night and worry about whether they’re seeing the signs of dementia already. What I like to explain to people is that Alzheimer’s, in a way, is like any other chronic degenerative condition, for example heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. There are risk profiles around these conditions, and for me, one of the best things I did was get tested to understand my risk profile for Alzheimer’s.”

What Is a Risk Profile and Why Is it Important?

A risk profile consists of five basic categories:

  1. Biomarkers, which consist of the genes you were born with that you cannot control.

  2. Demographics, which you also cannot control. This consists of your age, your ethnicity, your gender, and where you were born or where you live.

  3. Lifestyle, which can largely be controlled. This can include your diet, exercise, drinking habits, smoking habits, and more.

  4. Medical, including any medical conditions or comorbidities you may have.

  5. Environmental factors.

It is important to evaluate these categories to understand what your plan for getting off the road to Alzheimer’s may look like. Everyone will have a different plan that is tailored based on what these conditions look like and where that person wants to be.

What Can You Do Today to Lower Your Risk?

Tamara explains, “There are things you can do to lower your risk now, and the answer is really simple but most people don’t like it because it’s not a magical pill. We’re so conditioned to take a pill when we have a problem, but the real answer isn’t in the pill; it’s in our choices and behaviors. We can reduce our dementia risk by applying conditions that lower it to help balance out the genetic risk or the demographics that we’re born with. Things like exercise, nutrition, not smoking, not drinking much alcohol, losing weight, and doing cognitive training can help us not only reduce our risk for dementia, but also for heart disease, diabetes, and all these other complex conditions that are the result of lifestyle choices.”

What Is an Integrative Approach?

Tamara describes an integrative approach as working across the whole human being; it is more than just a physical aspect. It involves making changes that stick, taking it step by step. While helping clients, Tamara first understands the roots of their behaviors and helps them make changes that will result in new habits, new patterns, and new practices that support who the client is and where they want to be in life. Tamara says, “ I think a lot of people get overwhelmed, especially if I listed all of the things you need to do to reduce your risk.  It’s all about looking at where the client can make the biggest difference and to be honest, exercise and nutrition are hands down some of the hardest things to stick with. Having an accountability partner is very helpful, whether it is a friend or a coach like me who is giving your energy, excitement, resources, tools, and a plan you can execute to have better brain health and a better life.”

It all comes down to how badly you want to maintain your independence and dignity as you age and taking the steps in the right direction.

At Your Legacy Legal Care, we assist individuals with dementia in putting a plan in place for long-term care. To schedule a strategy session to discuss estate planning or elder law, call our office at (281) 218-0880 or contact us here.

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