Let’s start playing games

This is no joke, it’s time to get serious about playing games – the real ones, and for health reasons. OK, let me backtrack here: when my mother developed stage 1 Alzheimer’s and she almost set the house on fire a couple of times, much to the dismay and concern of my father, I began reading up everything I could about dementia and Alzheimer’s, and how best to navigate these treacherous waters with all the love and compassion possible. I come from a culture that takes care of their own, and dumping someone in assisted living or a home for the aged with dementia is simply not on the cards. All my venerable ancestors would haunt and curse me for doing such an abominable thing. It would be the more practical thing to do of course, but deep down it would also be a form of a cop-out, at least from the Asian perspective.

Mommy, herself being a nurse, could sense her own clarity slipping away from her and she was terrified. It began with the little harmless things that come with ageing, forgetting where you put something, wandering off without telling anyone, forgetting words and names. Then it escalated to leaving things on the stove which rang the alarm bells for Daddy. By the time my father was bedridden and could no longer watch over his beloved wife, he was worried and made his thoughts and concerns known to me with hand signals and chicken scratch (after his third stroke he was left paralysed on this right side, which rendered him unable to write). Then Mommy got worried when she couldn’t keep track of her own medication, knowing that an overdose could kill her.

It was a difficult journey and sometimes I wonder whether the universe conspires against me by dumping so much on my plate at one go. In any case, anyone who has had to care with a relative with dementia or Alzheimer’s knows that there are good days and very difficult days. This was my wake-up call, and after I turned 50 I knew it was my responsibility to keep mentally fit one way or another. Although there is no proof that Alzheimer’s is hereditary, studies have shown that people with a parent or sibling who has Alzheimer’s is more likely to have it than those without. Read more about it HERE.

One of the tips for keeping mentally fit for as long as possible, especially after retirement, is to engage in activities that challenge your creativity and memory. Learn a new hobby early enough so that it will sustain you well into the retirement years, something that challenges the creative and communication side. I didn’t need to look very far for this one, and felt encouraged to continue my writing and photography one way or another, even if it is just for myself. Well, you all know the story and the evolution of the blog over the decades, so I won’t recount the story.

Nevertheless, I have to say that these pandemic lockdowns are an excellent training ground for many things, one being for the time when we are truly confined to our four walls out of mental health reasons. With the current lack of socialisation and mobility we easily lose practice with some of the basic communication skills and our vocabulary begins to slip. After being confined at home for such an unexpectedly prolonged period with only books, internet and TV to stimulate the mind, I found myself grappling for more activities. Ordinarily museums, book clubs, theatre, and a plethora of other activities provide ample opportunity to explore new worlds, expand the mind, learn new things and definitely improve my vocabulary. Some will argue that you can do all that online as well, but we are all witnesses to how detrimental home office and online schooling is mental health are turning out to be.

There is no medicine or vaccine to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s, and the best thing to do is simply keep physically and mentally active. I began playing scrabble and solitaire again, albeit against the computer, but playing. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are some of the best activities out there but you’re also supposed to have fun in the process, which I don’t with either of these. Scrabble on the other hand, has great sentimental value to me. I have lovely memories of scrabble evenings with my parents while I was growing up, since both of them were aficionados and belonged to a scrabble club once upon a time. Mommy tells the story that once they hosted the club at our home while I was just a toddler learning to walk and talk. My parents were really the only ones who understood me, and I also happened to be learning my alphabet. The excitement of seeing so many letters I knew too much to contain and keep to myself and went around announcing the different letters I saw! This mean my parents knew exactly who had what tiles and were mortified. I wasn’t allowed to potter around the grown-ups after that until I learned to play nicely!

I do notice a difference in my alertness – instead of scrolling through social media I now prefer a quick round of scrabble or see if I can beat the app at Solitaire. The best mental challenge remains writing and photography though, but there are days I simply don’t feel like writing and push myself even harder, so as not to get too comfortable lazing around. Read more HERE.

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