What Peanut Butter Candy Taught Me About Alzheimer’s, Stroke, Dementia and Risk

By Stefanie Thompson Wardlow, senior program manager, Florida research champion, Alzheimer’s Association  

Not all strokes are noticeable. My grandmother had multiple mini strokes. With no real symptoms, we never knew. Until one day she could not make her famous peanut butter candy. I thought at first she was just tired, but when the holidays came around and grandma’s candy was absent, I realized that something was amiss. 

She and I would talk about her memory. These conversations always brought up her mom, who was suspected to have had Alzheimer’s. In grandma’s case, it was not Alzheimer’s but vascular issues. These so-called silent strokes eventually impacted her ability, joy and desire to create her famous recipes. 

If I only knew then what I know now, I could have understood grandma’s difficulties more. I wonder if her cognitive functioning could have been better protected? 

Here is my advice to my past self and to you:

  • Gain an understanding of what impairs the brain
    • Dementia is a syndrome or a collection of symptoms such as memory loss or thinking impairment. There are different types of dementia. For example, vascular dementia is a decline in thinking skills caused by conditions that block or reduce blood flow to various regions of the brain, depriving them of oxygen and nutrients. 
    • Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
    • A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). It can lead to vascular dementia. Keep reading about Alzheimer’s, dementia and vascular dementia/stroke.
  • Learn more about what causes Alzheimer’s. There is not one single cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have identified factors that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. While some risk factors — age, family history and heredity — can’t be changed, emerging evidence suggests there may be other factors we can influence. Some factors we can change include environmental/lifestyle factors, cardiovascular health, physical activity, diet, sleep, social/cognitive engagement, education and traumatic brain injury. Take the brain tour to learn more. 
  • Take steps to reduce your risk. 
    • Consider adding healthier foods. Some tweaks to our diets can have benefits to our overall health. The DASH diet is something to look into. 
    • Try physical activity. You don’t have to become an athlete, just move and try to move every day. 
    • Reach out to family and friends, after all, we are social beings. Yes, even us introverts need to reach out to others. 
    • Keep your brain active. Join a workshop, read a book, play a game or start a new hobby. The brain is not a muscle, but we can build new neural connections. 
    • Check your numbers. Talk to your doctor and keep up with annual or in my case, biannual appointments. Learn more about brain health.
  • Stay up to date on research. There is much to be hopeful about and new discoveries are being made all the time. The SPRINT MIND study is just one example. Keep up with the latest news and information via the Science Hub App
  • Attend a class or webinar. This is a great way to do all the above in a limited amount of time. One upcoming class I highly recommend is the 2022 Alzheimer’s Symposium on Tuesday, April 12 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET. This free webinar features experts from the Alzheimer’s Association and Baptist Health who will discuss stroke, Alzheimer’s, sleep, risk and treatment options. You will hear the latest research advancements in this space and so much more.

Today there is knowledge at our fingertips. Take the time to learn and open yourself up to discover more about the brain and how we can all keep it healthier as we age. For me, I plan to make grandma’s peanut butter candy, albeit with a tweak or two to the ingredients. 

About the Author

Stefanie Wardlow holds degrees in gerontology and adult education. She has been with the Alzheimer’s Association since 2005 and currently serves as a senior program manager of quality initiatives. She oversees statewide outreach and awareness initiatives including managing the Brain Bus program. Stefanie has been named an Alzheimer’s Association statewide research champion for Florida serving as a content expert to inform the community about the current state of Alzheimer’s and dementia research. She still continues to celebrate her grandmother by using her recipes.

Grandma’s Peanut Butter Candy

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