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movement with the hashtag #IHaveAlz, to help eliminate the shame that sometimes comes with the disease, she said. Once the event started, panelist Kaci Fairchild,

a psychologist and professor at Stanford University, told the audience of about 50 about the importance of exercise—for the body and the brain. She also urged everyone to become familiar with the 10 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, which include poor judgment, personality changes and withdrawal from social activities. Knowing these symptoms and getting an early diagnosis can buy families some time, Fairchild said. Panel moderator Liz Hernandez, a former correspondent for NBC’s Access Hollywood, said that had she recognized the signs of Alzheimer’s sooner in her mom, she could have received care and resources earlier. Hernandez urged the mixed-age audience to have conversations with their loved ones about the type of care they

About this story:

this story was produced by Kaiser Health news, which publishes california Healthline, an editorially independent service of the california Health care foundation. Learn more at californiahealthline.org.

would want if they were to be diagnosed. “These conversations are heartbreaking but they have to be had,” Hernandez said. In Latino culture, for example, “it is really hard to talk about money, but we have to ask our parents if they’ve set aside money for care because it is very expensive,” she said. Montana and Coleman are still independent, and they have made lifestyle changes. They eat healthier, exercise more frequently and engage in activities that stimulate their brains. Coleman said she has gradually become more involved with the Alzheimer’s Association, participating in volunteer activities. That’s how she learned about the panel. To stay sharp, she works on puzzles and sticks reminder notes in spots around the house. She still is able to drive—a good thing, because one of Irwin’s arms is in a sling right now. Irwin pitches in by handling the driving directions. Montana keeps a journal and writes a blog. Her doctor had so many suggestions—practice yoga, hit the gym, learn a new language—that it was almost overwhelming. Montana finally asked her which was the most important. “My doctor told me, ‘Do what makes you happy,’” she recalled during the panel, her eyes tearing up. “And that’s what I would tell others. Don’t look at a list. Do what works for you.” □

WEEKLY DOSE Happy hearts There’s more than one reason to think about your heart this month: Aside from Valentine’s Day on the 14th, February is American Heart Month. It’s a reminder to assess your health and make heart disease prevention a priority. Even small steps can make a huge difference. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends: • Visit your doctor: Schedule regular check-ups to set goals and monitor heart health. • Exercise: If it’s not already a routine, start small and work up to 30 minutes a day, three times each week. Even regular walks through the park will help. • Quit smoking: Cutting smoking can drastically lower your risk for heart disease. • Cut salt: When cooking, lower your sodium intake by replacing salt with herbs and spices. • Don’t drink your calories: Replace sugary sodas and soft drinks with water.

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