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Brain Health and the Impact on Healthy Aging Skip to content

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Understanding Brain Health and Healthy Aging

Bob Edwards talks about memory lapses and when they indicate a more serious problem

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Bob Edwards: Hello, I'm Bob Edwards with AARP Take on Today. On this week's show, we take a look at how the Food and Drug Administration has stepped up its game to warn Americans of companies that tout age defying remedies, but show no proof or statistical data that they actually work. Also, AARP recently launched the Closing the Savings Gap podcast series, which profiles women across the country who are paired with financial planners to solve vexing challenges in financial and retirement planning. The series is hosted by Jean Chatzky, Financial Editor of NBC Today and AARP Financial Ambassador.

But first, it's not uncommon to struggle with words and have lapses in memory, but the decision we all find challenging is whether this indicates a problem and the need for a doctor's assessment, and if there's anything we can do to change course. Joining us today for a talk about brain health and healthy aging is Alicia Georges. Dr. Georges is the AARP National Volunteer President. She was also a professor and chair of the Department of Nursing at Lehman College of the City University of New York, and Volunteer President of the National Black Nurses Foundation. Thank you for joining us today, Dr Georges.

Alicia Georges: Thank you for having me.

Bob Edwards: How did you get involved with AARP?

Alicia Georges: Well, I've been a member since I became 50 and I live in a borough of the Bronx and they've had groups in the Bronx who have done things and I've always received all the information from AARP and thought this was a wonderful group to be part of. So went back in 2009 when there was a call for nominations, there was a person sitting on the board who had come from the US Virgin Islands, and she encouraged me to submit an application through the open call I. Did because I thought I could bring something to the role of a board member.

Bob Edwards: Prior to your current role as AARP's National Volunteer President and serving another leadership and academic positions, your career began as a registered nurse. How did that shape your work today?

Alicia Georges: Well, I firmly ... and I'm committed and have a passion for what I do as a nurse, and I firmly believe that nurses take a holistic view. We have got to look at everything that affects patients. So that's where they live, who they live with, what they eat, what they drink, how to respond to any event, any stimuli in their environment. So I felt I was prepared to ... as a nurse, because of that view that I have of what's happening in community that it would serve me and serve AARP, not being arrogant but serve AARP well.

Bob Edwards: The number one concern of AARP's 38 million members is their brain health as they age. What advice do you have for those who are concerned about their brain health?

Alicia Georges: Well, first I want them to be cautious, that because one is aging does not mean one will decline automatically, that the brain ... of course the brain changes, but there's so many things that one can do to make sure that you keep, not just your brain moving, but the rest of your body. So staying healthy is critical. Doing the things that we need to do. If we have a chronic illness, that we take the medications, that if we've got stressors in our life that we find ways to mitigate those stressors. That we eat properly, that we exercise. One of the other critical things is that we maintain relationships and if as we age, some of those persons may have passed on, we find and we develop new relationships, because aging is a normal process, but it should not be a process that we see as it's the end of something. But rather it's new beginnings for many of us.

Bob Edwards: So good physical health helps mental health?

Alicia Georges: It sure does.

Bob Edwards: Last year AARP launched a campaign called Disrupt Dementia to help raise awareness about the disease. Tell me about that.

Alicia Georges: Well, the whole thing about disrupting anything, particularly dementia, is to make sure people have the knowledge about what dementia is. Two, those things that I just clearly articulated are brought to people's attention once again, that they begin to look for the things that they can do to really stimulate the brain, to stay in sharp. They ... I engage in video games on my phone now from my grandson who's nine, but those are things that help eye hand coordination, which we know stimulates the brain. We know that reading, trying to concentrate on particular things does something for our brain cells.

Bob Edwards: Over 5 million people age 65 and older have Alzheimer's and this number is rapidly growing. You've given us some hints. What else can we do to change the momentum?

Alicia Georges: Well, one that the literature and the science is now emerging, is that those of us who have chronic diseases need to be very, very well aware that we must be adherent to the treatment that have been instituted by our primary healthcare providers to make sure that if we have diabetes, that we follow the diabetes regime. If we have high blood pressure, that we follow those regimes, because the science is emerging, that this might be having an effect in what goes on in the brain. The other thing is, again, as I said, just making sure ... We don't have enough data, enough science yet to say how we can prevent it. We know that we can, should I say, reverse it, but we can do something to make people aware so that they begin to ... early on, to try to stave off some of the effects.

Bob Edwards: Well how can older people recognize the signs?

Alicia Georges: Well, there's some things that we all say, "Oh, I forgot." Well, we all forget, but it's how much we're forgetting. When we begin to not know who we are, or where we are, that we need to begin to look at what are those possibilities? If you don't remember your grandchild's name in two seconds, but you remember it 30 seconds later, that's not as bad as if you don't even remember who the person is who's your you're looking at. And so not only the person who may be going through this, but family members need to be aware of some of the signs.

Bob Edwards: What are some of the risk factors for Alzheimer's?

Alicia Georges: Well, from again, from the literature and the science, we know that people with type two diabetes are at risk. We know that people who are obese may be at risk. We don't ... with looking at ... they're finding relationships, they're not finding cause effect, and so some of the risk factors are people who are very sedentary and don't move around. They might be people who are isolated and lonely and have no relationships. Those are some of the risk factors that we have to look at.

Bob Edwards: I wouldn't have put those things together.

Alicia Georges: I know, but the science, the science is really emerging now that's really helping us to see, and me as a nurse, and to see how we can begin to mitigate those risk factors.

Bob Edwards: Are some communities impacted by dementia and Alzheimer's more than others?

Alicia Georges: Yes. We know that African Americans have increasing ... and again it seems to be related. Again, no cause effect, but relationship between the chronic diseases and ... such as diabetes and hypertension, the same ... and stressors in the environment. And the same for Hispanic populations, that they, again, the science is emerging about type two diabetes and if you read any of the data that's coming out of the diabetes science, you'll see that that's one of the things that's emerging.

Bob Edwards: How can people take steps now to lower the risk?

Alicia Georges: Well, first of all folks have maintain their health and prevent some of the things that can be staved off. We need to eat healthy. We need to keep our weight at whatever our ... looking at our BMI and what our ideal weight should be, considering our social and our cultural group. We need to begin to exercise. Walking helps, and have a plan, have an exercise plan or fitness plan set up. Do it with somebody. As older people, younger people, people don't like to do it alone. But get your neighbor to walk with you, walk in the malls, walk up and down the supermarket. One of my neighbors walks up and down the hallway in my building every morning for about 30 minutes and that's her exercise because she doesn't want to go outside if it's cold. Those are the kinds of things we need to be doing. And making sure that we, in communities, where we have the right kinds of foods. The other important thing we need to do is get enough sleep. And so that is critical.

Bob Edwards: Is that hard?

Alicia Georges: Yeah. It's not hard, but people need to know that they need to sleep and if they're having trouble sleeping, they need to seek out the services of a primary healthcare provider. If they're having a problem.

Bob Edwards: Can family members detect what's going on? Can they see the signs that are going on in me or someone else?

Alicia Georges: Sure they can. I remind family members that they need to think about how this person used to respond to certain stimuli. And if they're seeing something that's very, very different, they need to take further notice. So things like, as I said before, forgetting, that happens to all of us, but if they're really not being able to know where they are, sometimes we put things away, we don't know where they are, but if it's happening consistently and it's being sustained over time, then family members need to seek advice and guidance.

Bob Edwards: I wonder if they're looking for it. Does this have a family history?

Alicia Georges: Well, there's some data that shows there might be a relationship, and there might be a family history. Again, cause-effect is because the science has not been able to really determine what, what, maybe ... well we know what the brain looks like with folks with Alzheimer's, but not knowing or determining who will get it, but who will be at risk.

Bob Edwards: How come this hasn't developed more? I mean, this has been going on forever.

Alicia Georges: Well, I think because in many times we thought aging, everybody loses their memory. Aging, everybody knows that there something ... they don't remember things, or they're different. But that's because we had a very poor image of aging and keeping thinking that aging means decline and it does not. Aging does not mean decline.

Bob Edwards: And now we're living longer, so ...

Alicia Georges: Yes. And so many other things that ... And one of the issues is that some communities just ignored what was happening. And again, relegated this to the aging process, which it's not. I'm aging and I don't have Alzheimer's.

Bob Edwards: So Uncle John appears to be losing it, having some difficulty. How do you have that conversation with them?

Alicia Georges: It's one of the most difficult things for family members. One, because for themselves, they see that the person that they knew or thought they knew may no longer be what they thought they should be, and begin to point out to persons who may ... you may, your uncle John, for instance, "Uncle John, could you repeat what you said?" "Uncle John, are you aware ..." And begin to ask questions like, "Uncle John, do you know what day it is?" What we call the orientation to time, person, and place, which is critical. And begin to get a sense of whether or not they're having some cognitive dysfunction at that point.

Bob Edwards: But he's going to be in denial.

Alicia Georges: Yes, well, but you will continue to look at it and see if it's, again, sustained over time or was this just an incident that occur? The other thing is that we forget that sometimes because people may be taking medication or they may be tired, lack of sleep, they may respond in a different way. And again, the key thing is constant observation until you can begin to make a decision. Again, it's not a one-time thing, but when you see repetition, then you need to be concerned.

Bob Edwards: But this is my loved one. I don't want to make him or her angry.

Alicia Georges: You may not make them angry, but you're going to make them aware. And many times we have to make the decision that our role is to be assistive and to make sure that we protect the person from coming from any harm that may occur because of not knowing where they are. So they may wander not sure where they're walking. And they may fall. We have a responsibility to keep them safe.

Bob Edwards: Thank you so much.

Alicia Georges: I am honored to have been asked to participate. Thank you for having me.

Bob Edwards: That was Alicia Georges, the AARP National Volunteer President.

For more information on brain health and other healthy aging topics, visit stayingsharp.aarp.org or aarp.org/brainhealth.

Turns out, the prospect of discovery and the elusive fountain of youth might be more beneficial to scammers than those who actually want to turn back time. The FDA is warning Americans of companies that tout age-defying remedies but show no proof or statistical data that they actually work.

Starting with the supplement industry, the FDA has taken aim at 17 companies claiming their products can prevent or even cure Alzheimer's disease. According to the FDA, in the 25 years since Congress passed a law giving the agency regulatory authority in this area, the dietary supplements business has grown from a $4 billion industry to one that is worth more than $40 billion. But so far, no drug has proved effective at stopping or treating the disease. But for some [phonetic] ponst-a-dion wannabes, supplements are a thing of the past and have upped the ante with a procedure that infuses plasma from young blood donors as a way to fight memory loss and heart disease in older adults. News flash: it doesn't work. One company that had been touting the procedure charged $8,000 or more for treatments. That is until the FDA issued a stern warning.

Anybody getting ready to retire needs to bank on the certainty that they'll have enough in the bank. But women in particular often face a shortage of what they need in retirement because of pay inequities, caregiving responsibilities, or simply having longer lifetime expectancies than men. But here's one investment women of any age might want to make: a new podcast series hosted by Jean Chatzky, Financial Editor of NBC Today, and AARP Financial Ambassador. Each of the podcast's episodes features real advisors helping real people with vexing financial issues make the changes they need to get their finances on track. The series is available at AARP.org/closingthegap. Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

For more, visit AARP.org/podcast. Become a subscriber and be sure to rate our podcast on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, and other podcast apps. Thanks for listening. I'm Bob Edwards.

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Everyone occasionally has lapses in memory, but the challenge is to understand when those lapses indicate a more significant problem. When does it warrant a visit to the doctor? Catherine Alicia Georges, AARP's national volunteer president, discusses brain health and healthy aging.

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