I was really happy last week to read that President Trump took a cognitive test as part of his yearly physical. I was also happy that his doctor spoke about the test and even directed people to take it.
I’m not being facetious. I’m serious. Getting people to pay attention to their cognitive health, and getting people to take a cognitive test so they can get a baseline, is a big component of the work we do at my nonprofit, The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. I founded WAM to try and understand why Alzheimer’s discriminates against women and to help educate more people about what we can do starting today to save our minds and keep our brains healthy with age.
Turns out, there is a lot we can do today to support our cognitive health, but first, we have to get a read on it. The test the president took is one example (you can check it out here), but there are many other tests available as well.
A few years ago, I took a cognitive test of my own. I’m not going to lie. I was nervous to do it. In fact, I worked myself up into a frenzy before I did it. (That comes as no surprise to those who know me well.) “What if I fail?” I thought. “What if I don’t do well?" "What if they discover this or that?" It was like I was back in high school and about to take the SAT.
But, every doctor I had met through my Alzheimer’s work had spoken to me about the importance of spreading the word about cognitive health. How could I spread the word if I was too scared to even take a test?
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Lord, have mercy.
And so, in I went. I counted backward by 7’s. I listened to stories and tried to remember facts, names and faces. At the end, voila! I had my baseline and information from which to move forward.
Today, I pay a lot of attention to my cognitive health. I think about how the food I eat and the exercises I do affect my brain. I think about how certain types of people affect my brain, and I develop boundaries for those types in my life. (Yes, I do.)
I tell my brain how grateful I am for the work that it does, for the memories that it holds, and for the dreams that it still formulates.
I also think about my sleep and view it as time spent clearing out my brain, which science backs up. (This helps me go to sleep earlier.) I think about how stress impacts my cognitive health. I now remove myself from situations that I’ve deemed bad for my brain. And, I stay committed to my meditation practice each morning because I know that it serves not just to quiet my mind, but to help preserve my brain as well. (Science backs me up here, too.)
My curiosity about Alzheimer’s and my work in this space has led me to take care of my brain in a way I never even thought about before. Today when I look in the mirror, I try and look beyond my own image. I try to look deep into my brain. I tell my brain how grateful I am for the work that it does, for the memories that it holds, and for the dreams that it still formulates. I assure my brain that I don’t take it for granted. I also read up on the latest research and I do whatever else I can to care for this intricate, highly-tuned machine.
Talking about cognitive health is a conversation that we need to start having in our country, across all ages. It doesn't matter if you're the parent of a kid playing football, the parent of someone with special needs, a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer's, or just a person with a brain and a commitment to staying healthy ... Making cognitive health a part of everyday health is a place we need to get as a society. I, for one, am grateful that the president took a cognitive test. If that helps jump-start the conversation, then that’s a good thing.
So, the next time you go to the doctor’s office (or the next time you take a parent or a loved one to the doctor), ask them to do a cognitive test. Doing so might shift our conversation from that of the president's cognitive health to that of our own.