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AARP Virginia to Emphasize the Six Pillars of Brain Health as Part of the Staying Sharp Program

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Rebekah Dailey worried about the mental well-being of her mother, a woman in her 60s who lived alone.
April Greer

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020, Rebekah Dailey worried about the mental well-being of her mother, a woman in her 60s who lives alone. Dailey traveled from Virginia to Lexington, Kentucky, to leave her dog with her mother for companionship.

Since then, Dailey, 31, of Springfield, in Fairfax County, has followed in her mother’s tradition of service to others and  become an AARP volunteer,  giving presentations on brain health. A patient safety consultant with Inova Health System, she is one of the new volunteers who will enable AARP Virginia to increase the number of seminars it offers on the topic this year.

Dailey believes social interaction is the most important thing for keeping the brain healthy. “It can be hard, especially for people living by themselves,” she says. “But there are ways to be social even when you can’t be around people,” such as video and phone time with loved ones. 

Dailey’s mother kept the dog, a Yorkie, but ended up spending the lockdown with her other daughter and grandchildren. 

Social activity is included in the Six Pillars of Brain Health, a presentation that Dailey and other volunteers give based on AARP’s Staying Sharp program. It follows guidance from the Global Council on Brain Health, an independent group of researchers affiliated with AARP.

The other elements are engage your brain, manage stress, exercise, get restorative sleep and eat a healthy diet.

Tips for Staying Sharp

“We can do a lot to take charge of our brain health and improve our quality of life,” says David DeBiasi, AARP Virginia’s advocacy and outreach director and a registered nurse. “Experts say that only about 25 percent of physical aging can be traced to our genes. The rest is up to us.”

DeBiasi launched AARP’s brain health program in Virginia in 2015, and it has since spread nationwide. He credits some of its success to audience members talking about how they use the six pillars to improve their lives.

At an online seminar Dailey presented last fall, participants offered tips such as cooling down the bedroom for better sleep and using tai chi to manage stress.

Attendees later are asked to take a survey  to assess whether they have changed any behavior since the seminar. 

Preliminary results have shown improvements in habits, according to Laura Mehegan, a senior research adviser at AARP.

Kenneth Beals, of Staunton, an AARP volunteer presenter, says he knew he needed to keep his brain stimulated when he retired as a professor at Mary Baldwin University about four years ago. He took up the ukulele and has maintained his walking routine.

“With the shutdown by COVID, I kept the exercise regime going,” says Beals, 75.

Paul Singh, 62, of Woodbridge, a workshop presenter, is a standup comedian who includes jokes and mnemonic devices to help people remember the presentation. He says a positive outlook is key to managing stress.

For now the seminars are all online, allowing them to reach more people. For a schedule of presentations, go to http://aarp.cvent.com/BHVirginia

AARP’s increased number of seminars is well timed, DeBiasi says. “I think there’s been more attention placed on health and mental health because of the pandemic.”

Sue Lindsey is a writer living in Roanoke.

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