CALGARY -- 74 year old Jim Padley doesn’t have dementia, but both his dad and brother suffered from it.

Padley is retired after spending almost three decades as a high school director of athletics and football coach. 

But in the last number of years, he’s been working on a model train village in his basement.  It started small but now has grown to take up much of the developed space -- and along the way, he suspects, it may help keep his brain nimble.

Mary Padley, who has been married to Jim for 48 years, can't move around the basement much for fear of knocking over some tracks, but says it's a sacrifice worth making.

“He’s being very innovative," she said. "He went to Phase 4 (of the model village) and that’s when I said that’s it! We can’t get this TV out!  We can’t even hardly use the room.”

However, she is happy to see the passion that keeps her husband preoccupied.

“It’s mentally stimulating," said Jim, "and as much as it is important to eat the proper food and get some sleep, it’s really important to keep that brain active and I believe this really does help."

Alberta Health Services provincial medical director Dr. James Silvius, who deals with seniors health, says dementia and cognitive impairment are increasingly part of the aging process -- and that non-drug strategies are an important part of managing them.

“As people age, dementia (and) cognitive impairment is an increasingly common condition,” he said  through a release Friday.  “Non-drug strategies are strongly recommended as part of management for people who are at risk for, or have developed this condition.”

Dr.  Silvius said you cannot prevent dementia (or) cognitive impairment. However there is evidence to suggest that slowing of development, or slowing of progression of these disorders is possible.

Alberta Health Services has a number of recommendations with the best evidence behind them to keep your brain healthy.

1-Exercise: generally recommended as “low impact” activities, meaning walking, swimming, gardening, fitness classes, etc. for 20-30 minutes at a time and between 3 and 5 times a week.

2-Healthy Diet: recommended to be balanced and low in fat, high in fruit and vegetables, and high in fibre. Maintaining a healthy weight is also part of the recommendations.

3-Socialization: Staying socially active/engaged and doing activities that keep your mind active are important. Socialization includes seeing/interacting with people outside your home; being mentally active includes interacting with others as well as activities such as crossword puzzles, crafts, playing games, etc.

4-Managing health conditions: if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc., it is important to control them through both non-medication methods and use of drugs, where needed. While we think about use of medications, having a healthy diet and weight and exercising are also important components of managing health conditions.

5-“Vices”: if you smoke, you should try to stop. Alcohol consumption should be in moderation, generally accepted to be no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women. If you already have cognitive problems, less than this is desirable.

Meanwhile, back at the Padley basement, the biggest concern these days is what to do when Jim has filled it completely with his model train village.

Chris Padley,  the couple’s son, knows dementia has a history in the family. He's grateful for those toy trains.

“It was awful seeing both my uncle and my grandpa and what it (dementia) did to them,” said Chris.  “So I’m super happy that nothing has come of it with my dad yet or myself for that matter.”

Learn more about dementia here: