Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Sanjay Gupta, MD
Reviewed by Mark D. Walker
My youngest daughter handed me this book and said, “Dad, we don’t have time to read this, but this is important. Could you read it and report back to us?” So I did. And I believe that all adults should take responsibility for our health, especially our mental health, so this looked like a timely book to review and reflect on with my family.
The author caught my attention with a study that indicated that 47 million Americans have some evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, which means that their brains show signs of adverse changes, but symptoms have not yet developed. Globally, the number of people living with dementia will swell to 152 million by 2060.
The author starts off by laying to rest such “myths” as “Older people are doomed to forget things” and “You must master one language before learning another,” plus, “We use only 10% of our brains.” And he gets right to the “pillars” of keeping a sharp mind:
- Movement—an hour of exercise a day
- Discover (a new hobby)
- Connect to others
Sleep is right at the top of the author’s priorities because sleep is when the body heals tissues, strengthens memory, and even grows. He also points to a new Global Council on Brain Health survey on socialization that revealed that 20% of adults over forty years old were disconnected socially, which is important when considering that meaningful social activities help keep your mind sharp. He goes on to say that enjoying close ties to friends and family, as well as participating in meaningful social activities, “may help keep your mind sharp and your memories strong.”
The author offers a 12-week program to a sharper mind, which he starts with a powerful quote from Stephen Hawking, “One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning, and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”
Sanjay establishes five important goals:
- Move more throughout your day and build an exercise routine into your life.
- Find new ways to stimulate your brain through learning and challenging your mind.
- Prioritize getting restful, routine sleep at night and incorporate daily de-stressing practices into your routine.
- Introduce a new way of nourishing your body.
- Connect authentically with others and maintain a vibrant social life.
The author puts lots of attention on prevention. Dr. Richard Isaacson points out that, “Alzheimer’s disease typically begins in the brain up to twenty to thirty years before symptoms develop.” Therefore, he focuses on areas in life that are modifiable like diet, exercise, sleep, supplements, and drugs when necessary.
He identifies early signs of Alzheimer’s such as memory loss, changes in mood and personality, social withdrawal and inability to plan or solve problems. Middle stages include forgetting events or part of one’s own personal history, feeling moody, being unable to recall which high school or college you graduated from, changes in sleep patterns, and personality and behavioral changes like suspiciousness and delusions. The final stages reflect the seriousness of the disease, such as needing around the clock assistance, loss of awareness, and loss of basic physical abilities.
Sanjay begins one of the last chapters on “Navigating the Path Forward Financially and Emotionally, with a Special Note to Caregivers” with a quote from Lao Tsu, “From caring comes courage.” The average cost of a semiprivate room in a nursing home in the U.S. is over $7,000 a month, which is daunting at best and explains why the majority of people with dementia in the U.S. live in their homes and, for approximately 75% of these individuals, family and friends provide their care.
At least 60% of unpaid caregivers are wives, daughters, daughters-in-law and granddaughters. All told, according to Sanjay, 60 million Americans are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, which is twice the number of people living in Texas. As if this isn’t depressing enough, the author goes on to reveal that caregivers of spouses with dementia are up to six times more likely to develop dementia than others.
The author provides invaluable resources, especially for caregivers at the end of his book. He also tells of a city outside of Amsterdam which proves it “takes a village” to care for patients with dementia. It is a grand experiment taking place over a decade to change the way patients live out the rest of their lives. Keep Sharp is an owner’s manual you’ll need to keep your brain young and healthy regardless of your age!
“This is a frontier where we can dramatically improve human life, and Keep Sharp is a helpful primer for anyone who wants to better understand brain function and how to preserve it.”
— Bill Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
About the Author
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is CNN’s Emmy Award–winning chief medical correspondent and the host of the acclaimed podcast Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction, America’s go-to resource for expert advice on how to stay healthy and safe. The New York Times bestselling author of Chasing Life, Cheating Death, Monday Mornings, and Keep Sharp, Dr. Gupta lives in Atlanta, where he works as an associate professor of neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine.
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster (January 5, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1501166735
- ISBN-13 : 978-1501166730
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. His memoir, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association for Non-Fiction. More than 25 of his articles were published in literary magazines, including one that received Honorable Mention from the Solas Literary Award for the Best Travel Writing, 2020, while another was an essay winner for the “Arizona Authors Association” 2020 Annual Literary Awards competition. He’s a contributing author to “Revue Magazine” and has a column in the “Arizona Authors’ Association Newsletter,” which includes some of his 60 book reviews. Walker is also producing a documentary on immigration in Guatemala. His next book is tentatively entitled, The Moritz Thomsen Reader: His Books, His Letters and His Legacy Told by the Writers Who Knew Him Best. He founded Million Mile Walker LLC in 2016. His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. He can be found at www.MillionMileWalker.com