• As I watch, mostly helplessly, Mom descend into Alzheimer’s disease, I keep an eye out for new information on brain function. I want to find valuable ideas on how to assist her in dealing with this disease or background information that will help me make sense of my life as a caregiver. I also want to know how to guard my own health as I become the next generation in line in a family that has a tendency toward dementia.

    So needless to say, I snagged a copy of the January 29 issue of Time magazine, which features a special section on the brain. One of the articles talks about the impact of stress on the brain (and on one’s life) and how to deal effectively with this constant companion. There are some important lessons to be learned in this article for those who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease.
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    Most important – and worrisome – for caregivers is the article’s fourth point: Stress ages a person before his or her time.

    The profile looks at a study by University of California-San Francisco researchers, who analyzed a group of mothers whose children suffered from chronic disorders. The researchers found that the women who had cared the longest for children with disabilities or who believed they had the least control over their lives showed clear signs of aging.

    Furthermore, the researchers found that this group of women had shortened telomeres (a microscopic structure which keeps chromosomes from shredding). This was important because young cells have the longest telomeres. Thus, the researchers were able to conclude that these caregivers were from nine to 17 years older genetically then their chronological age.

    It’s hard enough to watch the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease take over our loved ones; it’s even harder to think about the self-inflicted ravages we cause to ourselves as we try to care for them. Fortunately, the Time article made several excellent suggestions on how to keep this damage to a minimum:

    - Breathe deeply
    - Take a vacation
    - Make friends
    - Exercise regularly
    - Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
    - Don’t stay up late
    - Do what you love

    As caregivers, we may say that we don’t have time for any of these things; our focus is on our loved one. But for our own sake, we need to make the time to incorporate some of these steps into our lives, so we are able to ensure that our own life is made up of quality years.

    Read Time’s full article on stress and the brain.
Published On: January 23, 2007