Experience‎ > ‎

Don’t neglect your brain

This title, which in Dutch is bit more imaginative (‘Don’t let your brain sit down’), was borrowed from professor Erik Scherders first book. In his book, subtitled ‘How physical activity keeps your brain young’, Scherder states that the amount of physical activity recommended per day is a minimum of 10 minutes, seven days a week. Most people don’t reach this standard. According to Scherder, today’s worldwide prevalence of inactivity can be seriously detrimental not only to our physical health, but also to our mental health! Many people are now aware of the negative effects inactivity has on our body: fat bodies due to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Still, few people know that a lack of physical activity increases the risk of developing MCI , which can develop into Alzheimer’s.  And when ultimately Alzheimer’s is a reality, then the progression cannot be stopped anymore. Losing faith has never helped anyone, which is why I will offer you some heartfelt advice here, in the hope it will be beneficial to you as well.  

Cycling, cycling.. all year around I try to get on my bike regularly, preferably every day, and cycle 10 km or more. Although it doesn’t get any easier due to several ailments, I’m still convinced that physical activity prolongs my life without dementia. Scherder says that even the act of chewing on something has a positive effect on brain activity so cycling will help for sure. This is very interesting since it’s the cerebellum that controls the coordination of movement. And this is why you engage in all kinds of activities just to keep that dreadful dementia far ‘away from the entrance to your brain’.  
I myself decided to – apart from all my exercising – participate in the LipiDiDiet research at the VUmc in Amsterdam, which I did for about 2 years. With regards to the effects of this study we were warned not to expect too much. Nevertheless I do consummate a small vial of milky liquid each morning, which tastes of vanilla or strawberries. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is what I’m thinking. The drink just might slow down the disease progression, even if it’s only a little bit. Every little bit is a bonus here! I do accept the fact that, as patients, we can only enjoy the benefits of these ‘little bits’. They give us hope. And with this disease, hope is the only thing you have to hold on to. With ‘only’ I mean that there are no life-prolonging drugs, nor are there brain surgery procedures in which the diseased tissues can be cut from your body. Apart from physical activity, mental activity is important too. Researchers agree that those who keep their brain engaged actually postpone the dementia stage. Solving puzzles, playing a game of Rummikub, writing columns, giving presentations and teach, for as long as possible: it keeps the mind active and engaged. Sometimes people ask me if this only applies when you’re highly educated. My answer would be: that may be the case, but there are many ways to train your mind on a level that suits you.  

Finally… when people ask me “How are you doing?”, I usually evade the answer. It is almost impossible to think of a good one. By this I mean to say that any response you might give won’t express the actual condition “of the patient”. MCI, Alzheimer’s and other similar diseases are processes of the brain. The progression can only be determined from the outside by psychological testing. In the brain certain phenomena are happening that result in a decline of cognitive processes and difficulty to complete certain tasks accurately. The patient will experience frustration and a loss of self-confidence. He constantly needs to think about what he’s doing. “Am I doing this in the right order?” is a question often heard. The patient simply cannot trust on his ability to perform his daily activities automatically anymore. He will become increasingly insecure, constantly wondering if he performed the previous task correctly. And this decline will continue until.. No, I’ll stop here, I won’t give up hope! 

Jacques Boersma