Daydreaming

The other day I was listening to a podcast and letting my mind wander. The podcast was Radio National’s All in the Mind and the topic up for discussion was daydreaming and dementia.

Do you daydream? I hope you do!

Daydreaming has a bad rap, but as it turns out, we should not be so hard on ourselves when we wander off. Daydreaming is a very healthy brain activity and while it may get you into trouble if you are zoned out when someone (like your boss) is trying to get your attention, the fact that you CAN daydream, especially if you are older, is an indication of a healthier brain.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have found that

“people living with frontotemporal dementia ­– a form of younger-onset dementia – lose the ability to daydream. ”

We let our minds wander a lot! Up to 50% of waking time. Daydreaming allows us to explore the unknown, practice conversations and confrontations, escape from reality, plan and problem solve. I know I write my best stories when I am out running! Pity I don’t remember them when I get back! 🙂

People with frontotemporal dementia lose this ability and remain rooted in the present and stimulus bound.

“They become increasingly focused on what is immediately in front of them, such as watching TV, listening to a piece of music, or eating food.”

They lose the ability to create their own internal world.

I have a particular interest in dementia and have done lots of reading on the topic and even an online course through the University of Tasmania.  I am concerned about developing dementia (and arthritis!). Being an old chook (a female over 55), I am getting dangerously close to dementia being a real thing in my life. While I can’t change the genetic road map I have been given or do much about getting older, I can do my best to look after the modifiable factors that influence dementia risk.

A woman sitting on a park bench. The photo is blacka nd white excpet for the woman's red jumper and dress. It is a dark and desolate scene with the sea in the backgrond.
Let your mind wander!

It turns out that the sorts of things we have been told to do to maintain heart health will also look after the brain and the joints because they reduce inflammation.   Inflammation is a big contributor to both these conditions. We need to ensure that we keep our blood pressure at a healthy level, stay active and keep moving, maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet which is based mainly in plants, never smoke and drink alcohol cautiously.  Easy!

While there are some promising studies that may lead to a cure for dementia, it’s not likely to be in my lifetime. So just excuse me while I go and stare out the window and think up some new dreams!

 

Just by the by, if you are interested in things to do with the brain and psychology, the All in the Mind podcast is fabulous. I must say I have a bit of girl-crush on Lynne Malcolm, the show’s presenter!

(As this is published I’ll be in an aeroplane somewhere returning home after my epic Scottish adventure)

 

Getting richer!

A blurry image of grass blowing in the ewind

You all know by now that I am no spring chicken and I  joyfully refer to myself as an Old Chook. I categorise Old Chooks as women over 55. That is, women like me. I want to be a fabulous Old Chook!  I want to stay healthy. I want to be productive and fulfilled and I want to make a difference. As I get older, I worry about the health issues that will raise their ugly heads – those diseases or problems where just being old is a risk factor.

Like arthritis and dementia.

A woman with a red bag and shoes walking toward a very grand chateau in Chambord, France
Dementia can be a lonely journey.

Dementia, in particular, has  been on my mind lately because I have been noticing a few changes in my cognitive patterns that are a bit scary. For instance when I am typing, and especially when I am trying to type quickly, I will get homonyms mixed up.  For instance, I will be thinking “sure thing” but look up at the screen and see that I have typed “shore thing”. Once, I was just a bad typist but now I have begun to select the entirely wrong word. It’s OK, because I realise immediately it’s incorrect when I read it back over. Still, I am interested in the process of why my fingers are not doing what my brain is telling it to.

a brown coloured leaf surrounded by black and white leaves.

I thought I would do a bit of study about dementia, its causes and its prevention. I recently completed a MOOC (a massive open online course) run by the University of Tasmania.  (You can see details for that course here Wicking Institute )

In VERY simple terms dementia is a progressive disorder that leads to cognitive decline. Loss of memory is only part of the problem. There is currently no cure for dementia. The biggest risk factor is age. If you live long enough you will end up with some form of dementia. There are, however, some modifiable risk factors. That is, if you modify the factor you can change the risk.  The trouble is, like with most health issues, you need to start doing the modification WAY before you are going to see the benefits.

You need to live well in your early life to ensure you have a good older life!

Risk factors for dementia

The modifiable risk factors for vascular dementia (a common form of dementia)  are:

  1. Midlife hypertension (high blood pressure)
  2. Midlife obesity
  3. Diabetes
  4. Physical activity (lack thereof)
  5. Smoking
  6. Diet
  7. Alcohol. Although with this one there is a caveat.  It seems that low to moderate consumption of alcohol may have a protective effect. Whereas high consumption will have a negative effect.

A glass of red wine with a veil of white light made with a torch and slow shutter speed

Looking at this list you might think it’s identical to a list you would see for heart disease – and it is.

Some non-modifiable factors include

  1. Age
  2. Brain injury
  3. Genetic predisposition
a group of intergenrational photos on a wall in a house. Light shines across the frames
Dementia has a genetic component

Some other factors which can affect your risk include things like

  1. Social isolation. Isolated people are more likely to develop dementia
  2. Vision and hearing loss will lead to greater risk – possibly because they can increase social isolation.
  3. Higher education will lead to reduced risk. This is thought to be because of the potential for cognitive reserves. People who have had more education have more in reserve. They have more ways to solve problems. Crudely, if they forget how to do it one way they will work out another.
  4. Depression – successive bouts of depression over your lifetime will increase your risk.
  5. Living a rich cognitive lifestyle will decrease your risk.

 

A woman in a black and white top sitting on the sand facing away fromt he camera. It is very early morning and the sun has not yet risen. The waves are in the background.
Morning musings. Low tide, late sunrise.

Don’t you like the sound of that?! A rich cognitive lifestyle!

A rich cognitive lifestyle is one where you are learning new things all the time. The learning should be sustained, complex and preferably include a physical and social aspect as well. Learning a new language, for instance, is a great activity.

I am thinking writing a weekly blog post and traipsing around the countryside taking photos is also contributing to my cognitive lifestyle! I sure hope it’s making my brain rich!

A woman sitting on a park bench. The photo is blacka nd white excpet for the woman's red jumper and dress. It is a dark and desolate scene with the sea in the backgrond.
Social isolation is a big risk factor.

This post, of course, does not constitute medical advice in any way shape or form and you should see your own doctor if you are worried. There are plenty of places to get good information on dementia  like here, Dementia Australia and I would recommend the course mentioned above

These images don’t have much to do with dementia per se but are simply here to break up the text!