‘Being Brain Healthy’ something to strive for at all life stages
Julianne Moore brought the subject of brain health into the mainstream this year with her Oscar-winning portrayal of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice.”
The topic has become even more relevant as the baby boomers approach old age and look for ways to keep their brains sharp and ward off Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
With her new book, “Being Brain Healthy,” local author Ruth Curran has created a resource full of practical tips and easy exercises that are life-improving at any age. Although the subject matter hits close to home for Curran, who experienced a traumatic brain injury of her own, the information she painstakingly researched during her recovery will help all readers, whether they are working to move on after an injury or simply trying to keep their brain functioning at its optimum level.
Here’s what she had to say about “Being Brain Healthy” — the book and the practice.
Q: This subject is obviously very personal to you. Can you talk a little about that?
A: Ten years ago, a van ran a stoplight and smashed into the passenger side of my car. I was hit so hard that the force pushed my car into oncoming traffic. There was no glass left in any of the windows — the combination of the forces from the accident and my head banging against the pane on the driver’s side and the windshield took it all out. In the process, my brain bounced back and forth in my skull, leaving me in a fog that did not lift for 18 months.
Q: What was the most challenging part of recovering from your injury?
A: Looking at me, it was impossible to tell that anything was wrong. I looked normal, so it was natural to assume I would act and react as I did before the accident. But I was different, and I had no idea how to find the words to tell anyone. People would expect me to be me, and I would look back at them, simply trying to figure out how the words went together and, at the same time, block out the noises and light and commotion that pre-accident me had no idea were even there.
Q: You took responsibility for your own recovery when the medical profession seemed to be lacking. What would you like to tell doctors who are treating patients with brain injuries?
A: Sometimes just getting through the day is not enough — push your patients to work harder. Throwing out a challenge will never derail anyone, and just might be that spark that someone needs to move beyond. And be honest about the fact that there will be setbacks —recovery is not a steady upward climb. My inclination is to say, “Listen to your patients,” but sometimes those things patients can’t find the words to express are the most critical.
Q: How is your life different now than before the accident?
A: I am a different person and, as a result, the way I approach my day-to-day life has changed. I had to rebuild so many skills after the accident and develop strategies to manage my life. As I homed in on the details — mostly so I would not lose them — I found myself paying attention to all my senses rather than trusting one to give me a complete picture. Focusing on things that made me happy actually helped me think better. I try to continue that practice every day.
Q: Why did you decide to write a self-help book rather than a memoir?
A: Originally, I did not even consider telling my story. I set out to write a hopeful self-help book to teach people how to use the power of their own brain and body to think and live better. It turned out that my personal journey made it relevant, mainly because I had documented the relationship between my behavior and how my brain functioned. I had to learn how the brain and body worked together and that meant studying it in great detail.
“Being Brain Healthy” is about changing your focus and adding quality to those things you are already doing every day. Turning up the volume on your life keeps your brain active and nourished. A memoir would have just scratched the surface and only included my specific type of brain injury. Disease, treatments for disease, traumatic experience, and sometimes just plain aging can all result in varying forms of brain injury, and I needed to include those as well.
Q: Who is “Being Brain Healthy” intended for?
A: The obvious answer is, those who have suffered a brain injury or have a condition that changes thinking, plus the people who live with, work with, or care for them. However, the book is not just about brain injury. The truth is that we all have to pay attention to how we live or we will, without question, develop a condition that affects our brain. This book is both pro-active and re-active, depending on your stage in life and health status.
Q: What do you think people will find most surprising about the information you share in the book?
A: People are surprised, first, by the fact that they can change their brain chemistry through their behavior and, second, that the better a behavior makes them feel, the more restorative it can be. Readers tell me they feel the difference when they focus on using more senses and making more of a moment. It is really so simple, yet so effective.
Q: What is the most important thing people can do to keep their brain sharp and healthy?
A: Move your body and smile. Your brain rewards you when you feel good, so do that every single day. Add in some heart-pumping exercise and you take it to a new level.
Q: Is there any good news you can share about Alzheimer’s disease?
A: Yes, and, with all the new research in brain science, more is coming in every day. One batch of recent studies focuses on the positive impact of meaningful activities like art, crafts, and socializing on the aging brain. Another zeroes in on the benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and living a centered life. We can put these findings into action right now.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from your story and your book?
A: Be hopeful and powerful. We guide our brain health either intentionally or unintentionally, through our actions and behavior. Why not set the bar higher by reaching for things that make you feel good and, in the long run, help you think better?
To buy “Being Brain Healthy,” visit www.rollingmulliganpublishing.com. For information on brain health, including free games to challenge your brain, visit www.craniumcrunches.com.
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