Written by: Patricia Faust, MGS, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
It is astonishing how the universe pushes you in the direction you need to go! Two fateful weeks in November of 1997, I had two automobile accidents. I was a straight commissioned sales representative for a medical supply company. This job generated quite the income for me, but I had to be on the road making sales to bring in nice commission checks. After two rear-end collisions, my neck and back could no longer tolerate that much time in a car. So, I had a ‘Coming to Jesus’ moment when I realized I could no longer continue to work at that job.
In all honesty, I really was looking for an out. The money was too good, and even though it wasn’t my dream job, it wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t bad enough for me just to quit. That mindset made it a little easier to leap into unknown territory, however. During the 1990s, people with dementia were kept in lock-down units. It was a very troubling thing for me to see how they were treated. I decided that I was going to do something to make these people’s lives better. So, I enrolled in the Ohio Academy of Holistic Health to become a certified clinical aromatherapist. Knowing that I would be laughed out of a nursing home when I told them I wanted to make the lives of their dementia residents better through the use of aromatherapy, I also enrolled at Mount St. Joseph University to get a degree in gerontology. While I was there, I used the time to get a Nursing Home Administrator’s license. That gave me some credibility when I started talking about aromatherapy. Then I thought, “what the heck. Let’s keep this education going.” I was offered a place in the Gerontological Studies program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
There I was in 2004, 52 years old, and a lot of new education under my belt. The problem was, I was met with agism in the field of aging. That crushed me. I had spent five years completely turning my life around. Nursing homes were too worried about getting cited for violations if they used aromatherapy with their agitated dementia residents. Little did I know that I was twenty years ahead of the curve over the acceptance of essential oils as a healing modality. I had to figure out how to get a career going again.
Wouldn’t you know it! The Universe steps back into my life, and I found myself at an international Aging conference. This was 2006 and Posit Science, one of the leaders in brain training, introduced a new product – The Brain Fitness Program. Brain science at an aging conference! I visited the booth to find out what changing your brain was all about, and I was hooked. Here was the future as far as I was concerned. I jumped back into the education pool and started learning everything I could get my hands on about the ability to change your brain. It turns out I was about 15 years ahead of the curve as far as getting people to understand that everything starts and stops with the brain. I grew very tired of being ahead of the curve.
That didn’t deter my passion for learning about brain aging and brain health. The longer I stayed active in the field, the more I was able to expand my knowledge. This field was so new that discoveries were starting to form and drive the beliefs that we could change our brain. Through neurogenesis (the ability to grow new brain cells) to neuroplasticity (our brain is plastic and continually changes to our environment), relatively new discoveries, I could fashion my own coaching and consulting programs. When the Alzheimer’s Association announced that a brain-healthy lifestyle could PREVENT Alzheimer’s disease, I could barely control my excitement. I felt like I had the secret to longevity with a high-functioning brain. Everyone will want to know about this!
They did – people are always interested in this topic. But very few were ready to commit to actually lead the type of lifestyle required to change your brain. There are six main pillars of brain health in the model I normally speak about. They are: Physical Exercise (you grow new neurons when you exercise); Mental Stimulation (use it or lose it, this pillar challenges your brain to make new synaptic connections); Nutrition (you are what you eat and your brain demands are specific); Socialization (connecting with others increases your cognitive skills); Sleep (our memories are consolidated or embedded while we sleep, and we have a cleaning system in our brain – the glymphatic system. It clears neurotoxins, cell debris, and any other brain garbage we might have collected); finally, Stress Reduction (you can see the other parts of the brain-healthy lifestyle, but stress can destroy it all). You need to do all of these steps. They all have a specific job to perform to make your brain function on a younger level. They all work in synergy.
This can be a lot to do, and when commitment to leading this type of life looks too overwhelming, people stop doing it. And they stop living this life at the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Commitment to being healthy or dementia? I didn’t think this would be such a hard decision, but it is obvious that people think it is too hard. My words became a battle cry to prevent Alzheimer’s, the only terminal disease in the top ten with no effective treatment and no survivors. People want a pill these days, and some predatory supplement manufacturers know that people want the easy way out in taking care of their brains - by just taking a pill. As of now – no pill can prevent or treat Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Where does that leave me and my passion for telling everyone that they can change their brain? Well, I love this stuff. I marvel at the beauty and complexity of the three-pound organ we have sitting between our ears. As time moves on, so many more discoveries are being made to maintain a high-functioning brain throughout our third age. Longevity is not worth anything if our brain isn’t working. The longer I work with the brain, the more I understand how simple tweaks and knowledge can change our lives.
The application of brain-health principles, understanding the way the brain ages, developing protocols to incorporate ‘brain at work’ knowledge have opened a whole new world of thinking on many, many levels. I am so fortunate to be a part of this transformation and continue to learn as this field of brain aging, brain health, and brain function reaches new heights of changing the way we live and how we live.
What is the state of brain aging, brain health, and brain function now? This appears to be a red-hot topic. Individuals are buying into the concept that you can change your brain. Thank goodness for that! Small businesses, organizations, and large corporate entities are now investigating how brain function affects the workplace. Management systems are revamping to include the ‘brain at work.’ Patience and perseverance are paying off. I am finally part of the curve – not ahead of it!
Patricia Faust, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Patricia Faust is a gerontologist specializing in the issues of brain aging, brain health, brain function, and dementia. She has a Masters in Gerontological Studies degree from Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Patricia is certified as a brain health coach and received a certification in Neuroscience and Wellness through Dr. Sarah McKay and the Neuroscience Academy.
My Boomer Brain, founded in 2015, is the vehicle that Patricia utilizes to teach, coach, and consult about brain aging, brain health, and brain function. Her newsletter, My Boomer Brain, has international readers from South Africa, Australia, throughout Europe, and Canada.
Patricia’s speaking experience spans the spectrum of audiences as she addresses corporate executives on brain function, regional financial professionals on client diminished capacity, and various senior venues concerning issues around brain aging and brain health.