Our Minds Matter for Healthcare

I’ve sounded the clarion call to be attentive to cognitive health in earlier posts. Admittedly, I’m sensitive to the issue given my father’s geriatric dementia and my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. I witnessed first hand the devastating impact of faltering intellective capacity, and I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep my household mentally fit.

I’ve strengthened my resolve in the past year as my husband and I dealt with a substantive uptick in engagement with the healthcare system. While we’re both in great shape for our ages, we’ve had referrals to various specialists to attend to chronic conditions, perform diagnostic testing, and deal with “upgrades” to eyes, ears, and voice boxes to enable us to enjoy full and active lives. We’ve got great doctors, but it remains challenging to avail ourselves of their services:

  • Appointments book out several weeks/months. Even schedulers have become hard to reach. As such, we’ve had to become all the more proactive in arranging our visits and any associated tests that make those engagements productive.
  • The provider’s payment system has proven complex and error-prone for a year-long series of treatments that my husband has endured. It took months working with the clinic and billing supervisor to straighten everything out. It only works smoothly now because I send reminder messages every month to have the system tweaked before our visits.
  • While pre- and post-procedure protocols are essential for successful outcomes, they take a bit of effort to create processes on the home front to ensure we follow through on all the requisite steps.
  • Physicians are routinely squeezed for time and simply don’t have the bandwidth for in-depth conversations about our health. They do a great job with diagnosis, monitoring, prescribing, and executing procedures. But they don’t bake in time for discussing lifestyle factors that could bolster the effectiveness of treatment… or even make medical intervention unnecessary! (Note: Some may not have all that much to say in that regard. It may not be in their wheelhouse.)
  • And don’t get me started on the teensy tiny print on the prescription bottles, medication notes, medical ID cards, et al. I have to keep a magnifying glass handy to read them!

Mercifully, I’m a nerd. I read a lot about health from reputable sources and really amp it up if there’s a specific condition for which my husband or I require treatment. But I can’t help but wonder: What do you do when you aren’t prone to letting your nerd flag fly? And what happens when those vaunted mental faculties start to fail you – just as you really need them to navigate an increasingly complex healthcare system?

So, I return to five pillars of good cognitive health and heartily encourage persons of all ages to partake in them:

  • Eat well, preferably a predominantly whole food plant-based diet devoid of processed foods and limited on sugar, salt, and fat intake.
  • Sleep well to give the brain time to regenerate, consolidate memories, and clear out its refuse.
  • Exercise to bolster neurons, oxygenation, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), and sensory and motor cortices.
  • Be a lifelong learner to sustain and build neural connections; focus on activities that demand concentrated effort (e.g., reading, studying a musical instrument, dancing, playing complex board games).
  • Socialize to keep the mind sharp and memories strong.

Remember: Living neurons can form in us until the very end of our lives. We need to be as attentive to our brain fitness as our physical fitness to enjoy healthy longevity. Failing that, set your sights on a capable ombudsman or two who’ll engage in your behalf when and if you need them.