John Avard remembers the day he met Ann, his wife of 22 years, like it was yesterday. He was at a friend's house in Dublin, Ireland, when "in walked this good looking, blue-eyed doll," he recently told KJZZ radio in Tempe, Arizona.
What John doesn't always remember quite so well, however, is what happened yesterday. That's because, as the station reports, John "has mild cognitive impairment, which is a very early stage of dementia diseases like Alzheimer's."
Thanks to a relatively new program at Mayo Clinic, John is learning a way around the short-term memory problems that are a hallmark of the disorder. The HABIT (Healthy Action to Benefit Independence & Thinking) program is a 10-day experience designed to help people with mild cognitive impairment learn how to better live with memory challenges. The program focuses on enhancing procedural memory, which uses a different part of the brain than the long-term memory that enables John to recall that happy day a couple of decades ago on the Emerald Island.
"We're not asking them to learn a new list of facts," Dona Locke, Ph.D., says. Instead, the Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist tells the station, "we're asking them to learn a new process." The station goes on to explain that the HABIT program "trains small groups of patients and their caregivers to develop habits that promote self-sufficiency and overall health." Habits like taking notes and writing down appointments in a calendar, which have helped John remember events like dinner plans with his neighbors. The program also includes instruction on other techniques believed to improve cognitive function, including diet and exercise plans.
The Avards say the program has made a difference in their lives. "It has taken a lot of stress off me," Ann tells the station. Her husband used to pepper her with questions. Now, Ann says, "he just checks his book and knows the answer most every time. He's become much more independent."
The lessons the Avards and others are learning through the HABIT program can benefit those facing mild memory impairment — as well as anyone who wants to try to avoid symptoms of dementia. The best medicine for that, David Knopman, M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic, says in a recent Mayo Clinic Minute, is "a series of things" including staying "mentally, physically and socially active and engaged" throughout your life.
Sounds like sound advice to us.
You can learn more about the HABIT program here. Then make it a habit to leave us a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.