Which Prescription Would You Choose? Pt 1 - Dementia Awareness Month

What if you were offered a choice between these two prescriptions?


Prescription 1



Go out dancing with your friends…
…and/or wander the golf course with mates
Learn to play an instrument
Eat some grilled salmon or drizzle your salad
with chia seed oil
Savour two pieces of dark chocolate
Laugh out loud
Sit and relish a short mindfulness exercise
Hug someone you love for at least 6 seconds
Try some new brain games
Quaff one small glass of grape juice


Prescription 2



10 mg ARICEPT (donepezil hydrochloride)
20 mg LIPITOR (Atorvastatin)
50 mg EFFEXOR (Venlafaxine)
1000 mg PANAMAX (Paracetamol)
*** NB: this is not actual medical advice !
A pill for memory
A pill for your heart
A pill for mood
A pill for your pain
A pill for your sleep


What prescription would you choose?

We hope you would opt for the first one, given the choice ☺


Having, growing and repairing a healthy brain – healthy in the sense of what it is made of, how it is built and how it works – can be and should be FUN! Most importantly it can be invigorating and enjoyable regardless of your age. Indeed recent studies suggest that the sense of novelty, newness, challenge and amusement are more important as we age (Shaffer, 2016). In Dementia Awareness Month we want to focus on the potential for steering life-long neuroplasticity and neurogenesis in the direction of positivity, hope and improvement. When we think of the word ‘dementia’, many people automatically think of Alzheimer’s (Hillman, 2017), but more than 100 different types of dementia have been defined (Juhasz, 2014).

If we do just consider the commonly known Alzheimer’s Type Dementia, this pathological condition remained on what was thought to be a rare list of neurological diseases until about 30 years ago (Kotai-Ewers, 2007). Fast forward to today and Alzheimer’s Disease is considered the most common type of dementia, The Alzheimer’s Association (2017) state it accounts for an estimated 60-80% of cases. The global population of individuals with this and all dementia diagnoses continues to grow.

Professor Tom Kitwood is considered a pioneer in championing the sacred and unique Personhood of individuals diagnosed with dementia. We would encourage anyone with a loved one currently negotiating this diagnosis to turn to his remarkable life’s work. Kitwood’s, Ineichen (1987) description of the ‘rising tide’ of dementia diagnosis globally is inspiring: ‘In the world of nature there are some tides that rise dramatically. The sea is a turmoil of gigantic waves; the cliffs tremble, the spray flies high into the air. Other tides rise quietly, creeping forward over miles of mud and sand, and causing no obvious disturbance.

Although their advance is hardly noticed, they are powerful and persistent nonetheless. It is so too with the tides that change the course of history. The rising tide of dementia is of the latter, the quiet kind (Kitwood, 1997).

Here are some statistics on that ever rising tide. The Global Delphi Consensus Study has estimated that the rate of new cases of dementia around the world is one new individual every 7 seconds (Ferri et al., 2005). The number of people affected will double every 20 years to over 81 million people globally by 2040 (Ferri et al., 2005). Dauntingly, closer to home, The Australian Bureau of Statistics offers us this - without prevention, the prevalence of dementia will more than triple from the year 2000 to the year 2050. However, in the same article abstract, Jorm, Dear and Burgess (2005) offer us this hopeful and motivating data to inspire change - delaying onset of dementia by 5 years would decrease prevalence in 2050 by 44%! We understand these statistics are impacted by innumerable factors and forces – from the sheer enormity of the earth’s population to our individual daily diets. However the numbers are a huge call to action individually and globally.

Dr Norman Doidge, in The Brain’s Way of Healing (2015), tells us how we can vastly reduce the risk of dementia, or improve the brain’s performance and health, with simple approaches anyone can use. Great! Now let’s explore that prescription for a fun and a fit brain more carefully, and if you are really serious about making some changes to improve your brain health, join me this awareness month and sign up for the Your Brain Matters - 21 Days of Brain Healthy Habits at yourbrainmatters.org.au/challenge.

Go out dancing with your friends or wander the golf course with your mate.

Your brain is a part of your body. Your brain works best when you are healthy. Exercise is an absolute key component of health. Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, has been associated with increased production of new brain cells (neurogenesis) in humans (Pereira et.al., 2007), more importantly exercise helps these new born brain cells survive and mature (Snyder, 2009). In a really uplifting and motivating report, a must read for 2017, compiled by Joyce Shaffer (PhD from the University of Washington) she sites that exercise can: improve information processing; improve the integrity of brain structures related to memory; improve executive function; and increase the grey matter – the very stuff our big brains are made of, and what shrinks with time in Alzheimer’s Disease (Shaffer, 2016).


The examples we use highlight some added ‘brain’ extras, two examples of exercise that have a multiplied positive impact -

Social ‘freestyle’ ballroom dancing is really good because it is an aerobic activity and your brain is constantly challenged by the quick response time you need to respond to your partners cues. Synchronising movement and music is a double play as well. Harvard studies reveal music stimulates the brain’s reward centres, while dance activates its sensory and motor circuits (Edwards, 2017).


Golfing offers a fun physical activity with the additional mood boosting elements of walking in green nature. Erin Matlock (2016) from Brain Training 101, highlights that golfing also provides opportunities for: visualisation; socialising; coordination; focus; a left-brain strategy work out…and if it all goes well some added self-esteem boosters are thrown into the mix as well.


Learn to play an instrument

Some phenomenal studies are emerging around the neuroprotective qualities of learning both music and languages as a child, before the age of 18 years (Shaffer, 2017). In a large longitudinal study the risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is roughly 30% less in those who had more than 4 years of instruction in foreign language(s) or music (Wilson, et.al., 2014). But, all is not lost if you missed the boat as a child…in another study completed by Seinfeld et.al. (2013) individuals aged 60-84 years, after just 4 months of piano lessons, were able to report improved cognitive function in the domains of: attention; control; and executive function. They also reported improvements in motor function; visual scanning and mood (Seinfeld, 2013).

So if you have always wanted to be able to be able to pull out a guitar and sing-a-long at a campfire…embrace the urge and learn…


Eat some grilled salmon or drizzle your salad with chia seed oil

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the optimal structure and function of your brain and nervous system (Shaffer, 2016). The typical Australian or Western diet often has a poor balance of the essential fatty acids, with consumption of far more of the inflammatory types compared with the anti-inflammatory omega-3. Your brain is made up of 60% fat, so it makes sense to be building and maintaining your ‘fat head’ with the fats that create better performing and better protected brain cells (Ilardi, 2017).

Savour two pieces of dark chocolate

Cocoa = chocolate = yum! Dark chocolate is best.

Italian researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy 61- to 85-year-olds whose memories and thinking skills were in good shape for their ages. Participants drank a special brew of hot chocolate with either low, medium or high amounts of cocoa flavanols each day (Godman, 2015). After eight weeks, people who consumed medium and high amounts of cocoa flavanols every day made significant improvements on tests that measured attention, executive function, and memory (Godman, 2015). Cocoa flavonoids may also improve your mood (Mosley, 2017). That is a pretty good case for a visit to your local chocolateria!


Laugh out loud

Laughter releases stress, aids immunity, changes moods for the better, helps you think and improves memory (Kornblatt, 2009). The Laughter Online University (yes, there is a place of learning for laughter) highlights that laughter also helps your pituitary gland release its own pain-supressing opiates. Jokes are a great whole brain activity – the left analyses the joke, the right ‘gets’ the joke (Kornblatt, 2009).


Stay tuned for part 2 of this article series where we discuss the second half of your new prescription including:

  • Sit and indulge in short mindfulness exercise
  • Hug someone you love for at least 6 seconds
  • Try some new brain games
  • Quaff one small glass of grape juice.

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