DEAR ABBY: I am in my mid-50s and look forward to traveling with my husband when he takes early retirement next year. My mother died at 82 with Alzheimer's disease, and lately, if I misplace my sunglasses or forget somebody's name, I become terrified that I'm coming down with it, too.
I have heard there are certain brain exercises people can follow to keep from losing our memories as we get older. My husband says I'm silly to worry about this now, but if there's anything I can do to protect myself from future problems, I want to get started. Any suggestions? -- WORRIED SILLY IN L.A.
DEAR WORRIED: Although a family history of Alzheimer's does increase your risk, my experts tell me that recent scientific data estimate that only one-third of what determines memory ability and long-term brain health is genetically programmed. The other two-thirds are actually dictated by things that are under our own control, such as lifestyle and personal health choices. Thus, as we age, we have far more influence over our own brain fitness and memory abilities than we ever imagined.
It is not "silly" to be concerned about getting a head start on preventing age-related memory loss. I spoke with Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging, who says it is never too early to begin protecting our brains. In his book, "The Memory Bible," Dr. Small explains that our brains actually begin to show signs of aging when we are in our early 20s. He outlines ways to protect our brain function with healthy diet, mental aerobics, memory techniques and stress reduction.
Organizations like the UCLA Center on Aging (www.aging.ucla.edu) and AARP (www.aarp.org) also provide information and programs about healthy lifestyles and ways to stave off many age-related diseases. Check them out. It may give you some much needed peace of mind.