“What is good for the heart is good for the brain“.
What is Dementia?
‘Dementia‘ is the name given to a group of symptoms that affect the brain. Dementia causes changes to the way a person thinks or behaves and it can affect the sufferer’s ability to complete daily living tasks to a point where their quality of life is diminished and it tends to get worse over time. There are over 100 diseases that may cause dementia.
Common types of Dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Huntington’s disease
- Dementia with Lewy bodies
- Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD)
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Alcohol related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome)
What are the most common symptoms?
The earliest symptoms or signs of Dementia might not be easy to spot, but can include:
- Increasing memory loss
- Forgetting known people, places or memories
- Change in personality
- Loss of ability to care for themselves or their loved ones / pets
- Loss of interest in life
Who can get Dementia?
Dementia begins in the elderly community, most commonly in those aged 65 or over, but possibly in those aged 40 and over. Anybody can suffer from Dementia and, whilst some rare forms of Dementia can be passed down to children and Grandchildren, most forms of Dementia are not hereditary.
Can we reduce our risk of Dementia?
Whilst there are some medications that have been developed to help with some symptoms of different types of Dementia, there are no known cures. There are some conditions that will mean you might have a higher chance of developing Dementia – some of which you will not have any control over and others that you might be able to influence.
In a very small number of cases, Dementia is hereditary, but in addition to this, people with Down’s Syndrome, head injuries or cardiovascular disease are at elevated risk of developing Dementia, and that’s where you can start to make a change. There are some things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia.
There is research to suggest that cardiovascular disease is associated with Dementia and there are several elements of lifestyle that increase the risk of Cardiovascular Disease:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
You can influence your level of risk by:
Stopping smoking is thought to reduce your risk back down to the level of non-smokers because the 2 most common types of Dementia – Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia – are linked to vascular problems and smoking is proven to increase vascular problems.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Healthier eating has real benefits when it comes to Cardiovascular disease – There is evidence that people consuming 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers, due to the lower levels of harmful saturated fats and salt intake.
Drink more water
Apart from the obvious fact that we will die without water (in around 4 days), staying hydrated helps maintain concentration, improve energy levels and stop us feeling lethargic. Being hydrated also affects the blood’s ability to transport oxygen around the body in a positive way. Hydration and brain health are strongly connected.
Interestingly, some of the symptoms of dehydration are similar to that of Dementia – memory loss, confusion, depression, decreased concentration, mood change, poorer attention and memory performance.
Further than this, a study has shown a direct link between dehydration and Neurocognitive Disorders and Dehydration in Older Patients.
Drinking more water means that we may be more inclined to go to for that walk or to that gym class, thus improving our overall health and reducing our risk of Cardiovascular disease.
Exercise is proven to help with depression, increasing social interaction (if you exercise with other people), and helps to reduce hunger. Even 10 minutes a day is a start.
Doing all these things at a younger age may affect your risk of Dementia, because the brain changes that create Dementia begin many years before symptoms become apparent and, as a rule, what is thought to be good for the heart is also good for the brain.
Keep your mind active
Brain plasticity is the name given to the way the brain changes and adapts to new experiences – how it learns. Medical research has shown some evidence that our thinking skills are less likely to get worse if we keep our minds active. Here are some things you can do to keep mentally fit:
- Learn something new such as an art style, a language or a musical instrument.
- Read, write, or sign up for local adult education classes
- Play online memory games or video games.
- Play board games with your friends, kids or grandkids.
- Learn to complete the Rubik’s cube or similar puzzle games
- Work on crossword, number, or other kinds of puzzles.
Although dementia is degenerative and progressive, evidence shows that employing a rehabilitation approach with Dementia sufferers may maximize function, including cognitive function, and minimize excess disability.
Treat High Blood Pressure
A trustworthy study showed that the aggressive treatment of high blood pressure can result in fewer new cases of mild cognitive impairment and dementia, offering even more hope that changes in lifestyle can lower our risk of developing Dementia.
Stay Social (Where possible)
Strong social wellness positively affects health outcomes such as a lower mortality rate, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, wound healing and even cancer. Social wellness and caring for others are also now thought to reduce stress. Staying on contact with loved ones is a key part of this activity, whether it be face to face, or via video. Staying connected socially is likely to reduce depression too, which is an indirect factor in the development of Dementia.
Drink less alcohol
There is evidence to suggest that a lowered intake of alcohol lowers your risk of Dementia, according to an anecdotal Spanish study, but also, lowered alcohol intake leads to increased overall health, and a healthy body is a healthy brain.
There is also a small but real chance that chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a specific form of dementia called Korsakoff’s syndrome, which is the result of a lack of Vitamin B1, essential for the growth of Brain cells.
If you are under the age of 65 and have a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia you may be eligible for services and support under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The best way to begin is to contact your local registered NDIS provider such as ConnectAbility Australia. ConnectAbility supports people with Dementia and many other conditions in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Central Coast, and Port Stephens areas.
Support is extremely important to ease the suffering of those who have Dementia. Family, friends, carers and community services can be invaluable in managing this devastating condition. If you have a loved one who suffers from Dementia, you may be able to get involved with a program such as the Bright Stars Arts Program, for example, run by ConnectAbility.
You can contact ConnectAbility using the methods below:
PHONE: 02 4962 1000
ADDRESSES: 26 Warabrook Blvd, Warabrook, NSW 2304 / 4 Karalta Ln, Erina NSW 2250