In this episode of ‘Conversations on Wealth’, host Sarah Widmeyer speaks with Dr. Nasreen Khatri about the importance of brain health particularly during a pandemic, and how brain health is directly connected to brain wealth.
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Sarah Widmeyer 0:16
Welcome to Conversations on Wealth, a podcast dedicated to helping Canadians with your total financial picture. I’m Sarah Widmeyer, Director of Wealth Strategies at Richardson Wealth. I’m so excited today to welcome Dr. Nasreen Khatri Dr. Nas is an award-winning registered clinical psychologist with over 15 years of professional experience in her field. She’s a gerontologist, neuroscientist, and an educator who specializes in the assessment, treatment and research of mood and anxiety disorders in older adults. From 2004 to 2012, she led the mood and related disorders clinic and founded the Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT services at Baycrest. In 2012, she joined the Rotman Research Institute at University of Toronto, where she innovates treatments for depression and anxiety for older adults, including CBT, mindfulness, and exercise. Dr. Nas, thanks for being here with me today.
Nasreen Khatri 1:24
Thank you so much, Sarah, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Sarah Widmeyer 1:27
As you know, if you’ve listened to some of my earlier podcasts, this is a very personal topic for me. I’m intrigued intellectually, but I’m also so fascinated by the humanist side of this issue. As a board member of the Women’s Brain Health Initiative for over five years, this topic, as I said, has been so important to me and so personal for me, as with my own parents, and my mom in particular, we have begun the journey into Alzheimer’s. The connection between health and wealth is becoming clearer by the day as our population begins to age and certainly accelerates in their aging. We’ve also seen the pandemic accelerate the economic and mental health impact, particularly on working women, and certainly women as caregivers, and sometimes we’re doing both, we’re working and being caregivers. Luckily, Dr. Nas is here with tips on how women can thrive and prioritize their brain and financial health in our new future. And we’ll discuss how our team at Richardson Wealth can support you in the journey ahead. So Dr. Nas, let’s get into it. What is brain health? And what is brain wealth?
Nasreen Khatri 2:43
Yes, so brain health is simply a combination of mental health and cognitive health. So mental health is the absence of mental illness, but it’s also the presence of a sense of emotional wellbeing. So we combine that with cognitive health, which is our memory, our thinking, our attention, our creativity, our social skills. So when we combine mental health and cognitive health, we help brain health. In terms of what is brain wealth, brain health is really a major part of our overall health, right? And brain health is also part of our wealth, because we live in a knowledge economy, and so we need our brain health to keep working and to thrive in the world that we live in. And some would say that really health is the only wealth. And we know that when cognition starts to slip, one of the first things to go is financial decision making. And a lot of people aren’t aware of that. So it’s important to stay on top of our brain health so that we can stay on top of our finances and be happy and content in terms of our financial lives. And also that we can thrive in the economy, in the workplace as we go forward.
Sarah Widmeyer 4:00
You know, it’s, it’s amazing. Just a personal note here with my mom and her own journey with Alzheimer’s. She’s beginning to forget somewhat about is it Tuesday, or is it Wednesday, but she has not forgotten her bills. Her bills, she’s very concerned if the bills have been paid if they’ve been paid on time. And it’s amazing how other things are starting to slip away, but the idea of money, and do I have enough money, and has the money been appropriately put against my bills is something that stayed with her and is staying with her.
Nasreen Khatri 4:35
And that’s actually a really positive thing to hear that your mom is still kind of on top of her finances in a certain way. But for many more of us, the pictures less rosy in that we still have financial worries. So 39% of Canadians say that they have financial worries right now, but that’s different than having financial literacy or having the capacity to be on top of your finances. So it’s important to have both, to be aware of what’s happening, but also to be able to stay on top of your finances. Because financial decision making after all, is very complex, much more complex than other routine tasks, like household activities, sometimes even parts of our job, driving, things like that. And so what I always suggest to people is that they are, you know, working with an advisor or understanding their financial plan from a younger age. So, you know, what is that age? But roughly speaking over the age of 35, it’s important, especially for women to become financially literate, it’s obviously never too late, and to stay on top of their financial life.
Sarah Widmeyer 5:41
Yeah, really, really interesting. So, if we may, let’s switch over to the pandemic, of course, it’s been such a large thing that we’ve all had to deal with. And it’s affected us all in so many, many different ways. From an economic perspective, certainly, but also from a brain health perspective. Let’s talk about that.
Nasreen Khatri 6:06
Right, so let’s talk about the impact of the pandemic in all the different ways. So for sure, there’s the economic impact, and the brain health impact. The economic impact has been disproportionate for women. So some people refer to this as the ‘she session’, for a few reasons. One reason is that it’s disproportionately impacted people who are poorer. And women tend to live in poverty more often than men. So 70% of people who live in poverty are actually women. The second concern is job loss, but job loss has been unequal. So it’s happened more in what we call the ‘pink profession’. So whether that’s waitressing or retail or these kinds of jobs. So that’s been an impact. A third impact has been childcare, or let’s just call it caregiving in general. So oftentimes, if a woman has a partner, she’s the person who the woman is more likely to give up their job or to have to cut back in hours. Because oftentimes, children have been in and out of school in terms of bricks and mortar school. And so they’re at home learning virtually, while their mother is trying to do a job at home at the same time, or giving up that job to take care of her children. Now, the other part of that which kind of leads into the brain health question that you asked me initially, is that all these things combined, right? So health is everything. It’s the economy, its physical health, its mental health, is cognitive health. And so what’s happened is I want to pull up the caregiving piece, if I may. So now, you know, they often refer to women in the baby boom generation as being in the ‘sandwich generation’. So their caregiving both for aging parents, who may be faltering in terms of their physical or brain health, and also caring for children who haven’t launched yet. But I would say that it’s more of a ‘pizza generation’ than a ‘sandwich generation’, meaning that there’s a lot of hierarchical relationships to caregiving. And especially during the pandemic, I just want to make a note that this has been happening pre pandemically, but has been magnified during the pandemic, so that we might be trying to care for elderly parents during social distancing, which is very difficult, or there may be several generations of the family in the same household. So it really concentrates caregiving and exacerbates the difficulties without during the pandemic. But it’s also kind of like a pizza, there’s a lot of lateral relationships because of shifting demography, the pandemic has caught us at an interesting time, where 1/3 of us live alone in Canada, that’s actually the household that is the most popular at the moment. There’s also partners, ex partners, siblings, neighbours, all kinds of people that were caregiving for both men and women, but two thirds of caregivers tend to be women. And so there’s relationships that are kind of just stretching out right over onto the horizon. So what’s the impact of that? So let’s talk about cognitive health first. We know that caregiving of anybody, including young children, or older children, is actually depressogenic, which means people who are carers are more likely to become depressed or anxious to a clinical level than those that are not. We also know that it impacts our cognition, so our ability to essentially think straight, to have so many plates spinning in the air and to keep so many different tasks and roles running smoothly. And the other part of it is that a lot of people aren’t aware of the link between depression and cognitive problems. So let me break that down for you. So we know that men or women who have a history of untreated depression, or clinical anxiety in midlife, are twice as likely to develop dementia later in life than individuals who don’t share that untreated history. So it’s really important for people who feel that they have symptoms of depression or anxiety, so they feel too low, too lonely, too angry to sad, too anxious for, you know, weeks on end. And it’s impacting two or more areas of functioning, so relationships or work. And that’s really all a mental illness is, it’s the combination of emotional distress, and impaired functioning in two or more areas of life. If you’re in that camp, it’s important to get that checkup from the neck up, because we don’t want anybody to have untreated depression or anxiety, you know, over the age of 30, because that really loads on to dementia risk, right? So right now, we know that depression, anxiety are eminently treatable with medication and talk therapy, and combination treatments, and exercise. But dementia is currently incurable. So we don’t want to see folks go down that cognitive road. So saving your mental health today is really saving your brain tomorrow. And so this is actually what I study, I study that neural link between what happens when people have untreated mental health problems in midlife, and the likelihood that they’re going to have dementia later on. And where this really impacts women is that depression actually occurs pre pandemically are outside of a pandemic, twice as often in women. So women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety to begin with. And they’re also twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia as men. And that’s not a coincidence, because we know that there are brain functions and brain structures that are intimately tied with both depression, and dementia. So it’s important for us to stay on top of, obviously, our economic health, which is sometimes a little bit less out of our control during the pandemic, but at all times, to be aware of where we stand financially as a part of our overall health, and to maintain our mental health and our cognitive health.
Sarah Widmeyer 12:17
It’s really, really fascinating. And it does strike home a bit, as well. I mean, certainly, you know, I’ve been busy around here looking after two children and you know, university level, and my mom in just going into a care home, and thinking, you know, I walk into a room, and I have no idea why I’m in there, and I look at the laundry basket, and I can’t even name it, I can’t even find the name. And I think oh my god, here I go to, which I think is probably a natural thought for a lot of us. But gosh, it’s so fascinating. And I know we have another conversation that we’re going to talk about the Eco pandemic, but it really is an important topic to dive into. So I’m so glad you’re here with me today. So let me ask you this then, what can women do to thrive in this new reality? What can we do? What are the practical tips? And how can Richardson Wealth Advisors be part of the solution? How can we help our clients, particularly our women clients?
Nasreen Khatri 13:19
Yeah, Sarah, that’s such an important question. I think I’m going to start talking about what we can do to thrive with both men and women, but especially women as we’re talking about them in terms of caregiving and multiple roles today. So I think the first thing is to be able to, you said, you may not be able to name that laundry basket, but it’s important to be able to name our feelings and our emotions. So studies show that just acknowledgement of our emotional state, helps our mental health overall. During this time, pre pandemically, but in fact, this is just magnifying what we all go through, we all go through a lot in our lives. And so if there’s a silver lining, it’s time for us to be able to know that we’re not alone. We all experience losses, grief stresses. So being able to name what those emotions are, is the first step to thriving. So whether it’s sadness, loneliness, whatever you may be experiencing, I think that’s really important. I also want to point out an emotion that you may not have heard of, but probably are experiencing, which is what we call anticipatory grief. So when I first started doing these broadcasts, maybe, I guess, 15 months, it’s been now on pandemic mental health and mental health in general. It was really important to talk about anticipatory grief, which is the sense that you’ve lost something that you haven’t had the chance to experience yet. So if you can think back to the first lockdown in March of 2020, everybody was really pretty startled and alarmed at the thought of not having graduation, not seeing family at birthdays, not going on vacation, wondering about what their first year of university is going to look like. So It’s natural to have these feelings. So the first thing I want to say is, whatever you’re feeling is natural, it’s acceptable, it’s important to be able to sit with that emotion. The second thing is to understand that you’re not alone. So even in these times of social distancing, I had one webinar called Alone Together, you know. So we need to connect. So it’s important to talk to people. So whether you’re going to actually reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional, because you find that you’re feeling distressed, and it’s impairing your functioning into more areas, that’s an important thing to do. But apart from that, it’s important for all of us to reach out to a friend, a mentor, somebody we work with, someone in the faith community, someone you trust, where you can speak openly about your experiences. And I think now I’m going to move to a little bit more brass tacks. So I’m a very practical person, and I think it’s important to do the things that keep us well. So it’s important during this time, but at all times to keep a schedule. So I know that’s difficult, easier said than done. But you know, when the body gets up at the same time, every day, has breakfast has regular meals, exercises, is involved in other activities, it’s sending a very powerful signal to the brain, that everything is okay. So if you want to maintain your emotional health, it’s important to maintain a schedule of some kind. Another part that’s very, very important in all of this is self-care. So self-care, especially for women. It’s not selfish, it’s selfless, and it’s key. And here, even sitting quietly, a mindfulness practice yoga, listening to music, whatever it may be, studies show that, you know, doing that for three or four minutes in the morning, three or four minutes in the evening, really gives you a lot in terms of your sense of wellbeing. So I think that’s important. I think if you can remember only one thing from today’s conversation, is that it’s important to exercise, it’s important to move the body. So studies show in the last five years, that the very part of the brain that’s actually implicated in depression and dementia, so mood in memory, we can actually start neurogenesis in that part of the brain, we can actually grow our brains through exercise. So three or four times a week, 20 or 30 minutes, kind of exercise, that’s a cardio workout, it makes you sweat actually grows new cells in the brain. And that is going to improve your mental health, your mood, your function, your concentration, so your mental health, and your cognitive health. So altogether, your brain health is going to improve best actually through exercise, whatever is good for the heart is good for the brain. I think another kind of part of all of this is important to have some fun, it’s important, you know, whether it’s in Netflix, or, you know, connecting with friends through phone calls, through zoom, having, you know, movie night at home, it’s still important to laugh, it’s still important to get joy out of life and enjoy daily life as much as possible while remaining safe. I think another important point is what we can do about things when they’re tough. So here, I like to reassure everybody, it’s really important, this is actually what I’ve gotten the greatest response from attendees to any of my talks or conversations, is it’s important to lower your standards. And people feel relieved, it seems when they hear that. So there’s a real myth out there that resilient people just absolutely bulldoze through everything in life and nothing gets them down. That’s not true, resilient, people know when to slow down, stop, take a break, and sometimes reverse. So it’s important to be realistic, to not get too far ahead of ourselves, and to lower our standards and cut ourselves some slack during this time, and during all times when we feel that we need it. Studies also show that practicing gratitude so writing down three things that you’re grateful for every evening, I do this, actually really improves mental health. And they can be anything can be the same three things can be different things. And so I think overall, what I would say going forward with this whole area, is that there’s lots we can do to thrive during this time. And when you asked me about financial advisors, you know, how does that fit in? Well, it fits in very well because just like if somebody is having difficulty with, you know, managing their diabetes, they don’t tell themselves, well, I guess I’ll just have to do it on my own. I’ll figure it out someday, of course not. They go to the doctor. And so financial advisors are there to help us to support us to educate us when we need it. And to help us assess where we are. So a financial adviser doesn’t have to be the same person for life, it’s important to get out there and meet someone that meets your needs, somebody that you trust that you feel comfortable with. And they’re there again, just to kind of review that, to support us to educate us in a non-judgmental way to give us a snapshot to help us assess where we are, and to help us solve any financial problems that we may have. So I think if there’s a kind of a key word, it’s outsourcing, I think I came to this a little later than I should have in life myself. And it’s wonderful to have a financial advisor, there’s a go to person who’s there just for that. And we all know that money is something that we have to interact with every day, just like we need to eat every day to survive, we need to spend money every day to survive. And I think that women and girls are taught not to talk about money, or that someone else is going to take care of their financial future or that they shouldn’t talk about their concerns, but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s important. Financial health is a key part of overall health. We know that now. And in the next five to ten years, trillions of dollars are changing hands into women’s hands, due to their own earnings, inheritance, death, divorce. And oftentimes those same women are not contacting advisors, because maybe they don’t feel comfortable having the same advisor that that a male member of their family did or because there’s something to do with that relationship. But nothing should dissuade someone from seeking, you know, assistance when they need it. And that’s kind of a big part of my public health message always when I talk to the public and certainly is when it when it comes to financial health.
Sarah Widmeyer 21:49
I love it.
Sarah Widmeyer 22:01
It really is brain health is brain wealth, and how intricately the two are combined, especially for women, where anxiety around money can certainly exist, as I’m seeing it with my mom today. So thank you so much. So, Dr. Nas? How can listeners learn more about your work? You referenced it a number of times, where can they find you?
Nasreen Khatri 22:27
Well, the easiest place to find me is actually at Toronto Brain Health. So if you just Google that, you can go to the website and it says our team and there’s a picture of me and my name or my full name Dr. Nasreen Khatri, and it has all the information there so you can contact me directly through that.
Sarah Widmeyer 22:44
Perfect. Thank you all for listening. And thank you to Dr. Nas. Remember to follow Richardson Wealth on LinkedIn for the latest and wealth strategies and visit our website for more in