Dementia is a lurking fear as one grows older, but you can take steps to lower its risk starting right now, explains Dr Nandini Saini
Dementia – an umbrella term which includes many different symptoms, including memory loss, impaired thinking, difficulty in finding words, impaired judgment and the inability to perform everyday activities.
Although not a normal part of ageing, dementia mainly affects older people, more common after the age of 65. Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.
There are many types of dementia including
- Alzheimer’s disease (most common, 60 -70 %),
- Vascular dementia,
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Lewy Body disease.
- Dementia associated with Parkinson’s
Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide, as affected people have difficulty performing simple day-to-day tasks, even comprehending what they see. It has a physical, psychological, social, and economic impact, not only on people with dementia, but also on their families, careers and society.
The general cause of dementia is anything that damages the neurons in the brain, leading to dysfunction.
Are you at risk?
There are some factors which are not in our control:
AGE – Although age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia, it is not a natural consequence of ageing. Further, dementia does not exclusively affect older people – young onset dementia (defined as the onset of symptoms before the age of 65 years) accounts for up to 9% of cases.
GENES In rarer types of dementia there may be a strong genetic link, but these are only a tiny proportion of overall cases of dementia.
GENDER Research suggests that women show more tendency to develop it than men.
ETHNICITY There is some evidence to suggest that people of South Asian, African or African-Caribbean descent may be affected to a greater extent.
There are additional risk factors, including depression, low educational attainment, social isolation, and cognitive inactivity – which, to an extent, are in our control.
These factors are responsible for about one third of the dementia cases seen.
Can it be prevented?
While preventing dementia entirely may not be possible, there are some factors we can control – lifestyle changes which could potentially reduce the risk of dementia.
A regular exercise schedule can lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Studies estimate the protective effect to be about 30–40 per cent reduced risk of dementia compared to those who do little or no physical activity.
Try keeping moderately physically active (aerobic/cardio/walk) for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. Alternatively, you can do vigorous exercises for 20 minutes, thrice a week.
Including foods with a high proportion of proteins and other nutrients, such as oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals and olive oil, coupled with a reduction in intake of red meat and sugar, is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Studies estimate that it could reduce the risk by about a third.
It’s also advisable to keep a check on alcohol intake.
A history of hypertension in your middle age can increase your risk of developing dementia in later life.
Seek treatment as soon as possible.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus
People suffering from type 2 diabetes are more at risk to develop dementia, than non-diabetics.
Reducing weight, maintaining a healthy weight will reduce your risk of morbid conditions like type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease – and, therefore, indirectly, probably dementia too.
Smoking can increase the risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Research shows between a 30 to 50 % increase in risk depending on the study and type of dementia
Avoid smoking…If you do already, try to quit the habit.
Poor childhood education
People with low education exposure (lower secondary or less) as a child have an increased risk of developing dementia in later life.
We, therefore, need to promote education for all…
Reduced cognitive activity, even excessive passive cognitive activity, such as watching television, has been observed to increase risk of dementia.
We need to give our brain a daily workout, such as reading, solving puzzles, word searches or crosswords, playing cards or learning something new.
Keeping to yourself, not meeting people can also increase your chances of dementia.
Try to keep yourself socially engaged, encourage a good social network. Take up a new hobby that allows you to socialise…volunteer for social causes, join clubs.
Trauma to brain
A grievous injury, trauma to the brain can increase the risk of dementia to a large extent.
Thus, though age plays a large role in the onset of dementia, and is not in our control, we should take other precautions which can help protect us from dementia.