I have been told that having a traumatic brain injury and multiple concussions increase my chances of getting dementia and Alzheimer’s. This medical threat has been confirmed often in the media by reporting on the number of Veteran football players who are known to have Alzheimer’s, such as John Mackey who is a Football Hall of Famer. And Andre Waters, the former Philadelphia Eagles player committed suicide at age 44, whose brain autopsy report revealed that his brain tissue resembled that of an 80-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease. And the former New England Patriots linebacker, Ted Johnson, at age 34 said he was exhibiting the depression and memory lapses associated with oncoming Alzheimer’s.
Even though I didn’t play football, I did play Polo for 10 years, fell off a horse a few times and survived two major automobile accidents. The interesting thing about concussions is that, there were times I felt confused after a fall, but I didn’t go to the hospital. Only a wimp would do such a think, especially when I was playing a man’s sport at the time. The point being is that years ago, it was referred to as “just a concussion,” implying that it was a minor injury.
What motivates me to share healing and recovery tips on sports-related concussions and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) is the fear of Alzheimer’s nipping at my heals. However, I am optimistic that I can prevent dementia and Alzheimers because I outran and overcame memory and cognitive issues brought on by a brain injury caused by a major horse accident in June 2001.
So my purpose in speaking and writing about this subject is to spread the good news about preventing memory loss from head injuries and age related decline. For example, in an article I just read at the NPR website, http://n.pr/h9JaE7 , Dr. David Bennett, Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests building “cognitive reserve” extra brain capacity. He describes it, “like the side streets when there’s an accident on the expressway. Everything comes to a dead stop, and you get off and you meander through the side streets, and you can actually get to your destination.”
Some people are lucky to inherit 50 percent of cognitive reserve. Another way to build up this reserve is through ongoing education and “rich life experiences having a purpose in life, conscientiousness, social networks, stimulating activities all these things seem to be protective, in terms of how your brain expresses whatever pathology it’s accumulating,” Dr. Bennett says. In other words, brain research has documented that autopsies of many brains showing the organic changes of Alzheimer’s, but the symptoms were not manifested in their lives. Research is crediting the neuroplasticity of the brain and it’s ability to rewire by building new brain cells, neural pathways and synapses. That’s quite encouraging.
Besides being social and expanding your education in whatever interests you have, I’ve also read that learning to play a musical instrument, physical exercise and dancing, especially learning new dance steps build a “cognitive reserve.” There is an old saying, “He who has the most toys when he dies, wins.” Well, my new saying is, “He who has the most brain cells when he dies, wins.” Remember, you heard it here first