The Journey: Take care of your savings by taking care of your brain



Grab a bowl of berries and walk up a steep hill.

Now you’re ready to learn three other ways to save your retirement fund.

Confused?

The advice is simplistic and ignores the devastating financial toll dementia-related expenses often add to a person’s struggle with the disease, but if there are some low-cost and relatively easy ways to delay the onset as long as possible, they’re certainly worth a look.

“Rates of dementia have gone down, not up, in the last few years, most probably because of lifestyle changes that have begun to take place,” said Dr. Jon Lieff, a neuropsychiatrist and a past president of the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry. Lifestyle can dramatically alter the course of vascular disease and may affect Alzheimer’s, though that isn’t totally clear, Dr. Lieff said.

A 2013 RAND Corp. study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, estimated dementia’s annual U.S. economic impact at $159 billion, not including uncompensated care by family members. Two years later, projecting possible rates of future spending, researchers including RAND’s Michael D. Hurd, writing for the Journal of Population Aging, suggested that future costs could drop by 40 percent if rates of prevalence continue shrinking as predicted.

Dr. Lieff said there are five key lifestyle switches that can make a big difference on brain health:

Food

Load up on berries and nix the processed foods wherever possible, he said. He’s not a believer in pricey supplements, but he noted Vitamin D can be essential for Northerners or others who don’t get much sun. He also doesn’t think wine, tequila or other alcoholic drinks have any brain health benefits. Avoid sugars and red meat as much as possible, he says. To be sure, eating fresh berries from pricey organic foods stores can get costly, but you can cut down on the costs by shopping at cheaper retailers. Taking red meat out of the budget will save some dollars, too.

Exercise

“If there’s a magic bullet in all this, it’s exercise,” Dr. Lieff said. The good news, at least for couch potatoes, is that moderation is a good thing. Even a few minutes a few times each day can have substantial, positive effects on the brain, he said.

Sleep

The brain needs sleep to restore its circuitry, so get rid of the light from electronics in the bedroom and work to get back on a regular sleep schedule if you’ve gotten away from that since retirement.

Brain use

Use it or lose it, Dr. Lieff said. Learn a dance or a new piece of music, or teach math to a kid.

Nature

Walking through a park or putting a plant or a pet in your house can have restorative brain effects, Dr. Lieff said.

With average costs of a private nursing home room now more than $92,000 annually (according to insurer Genworth), doing as much as possible to delay those costs makes sense, said Mari Adam, a Boca Raton, Fla., financial planner.

She also advocates more traditional financial planning moves to get ready for the possibility of dementia, such as creating trusts and powers of attorney and consolidating far-flung financial accounts into a manageable system that someone working on your behalf can navigate.

Long-term care insurance can make sense for some retirees, of course, but keeping these lower-cost steps in mind is crucial, experts say.





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