Dementia is a disease that many of us worry about getting in old age because of the affect it can have, not only on the sufferer, but the whole family. Our other worry comes from the fact that is no known cure at the moment and often there is no clear diagnosis.
With no cure and difficult diagnosis we ask ourselves is there anything I can do to reduce my chances of getting Dementia. The good news is there is things we can do but the bad news is that for many of us we are too late in life to change what we have already done!
The risk of dementia, disability and frailty will sometimes be determined by factors that can’t be changed, such as inherited conditions, injury or our early life education. But changing specific risk factors and behaviours can reduce the risk of dementia, disability and frailty for many people. These changeable factors include smoking, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, poor diet, being overweight and mental health.
Even if you think it is too late to change your lifestyle, think again because modifying our lifestyles at any stage can increase our chances of living healthier for longer.
Looking at the changeable factors where we can influence our health:
Smoking has an extremely harmful effect on the heart, lungs and blood vessels, including the blood vessels in the brain. Research shows that smokers have a 50 per cent greater chance of developing dementia than those who have never smoked, but this risk can be significantly reduced by quitting the habit.
Personally I do not get why people continue to smoke, how many times does it have to be said that it is really bad for your health and is anti-social. If you want to stop smoking it is a good idea to visit your GP. They can provide help and advice about quitting, and can refer you to an NHS Stop Smoking Service. The help is there, use it.
Being physically active is important for the health of both brain and heart, and should be something you do as part of a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that regular exercise in middle-aged or older adults can improve thinking and memory, and reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes, five times a week, with a moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking or cycling. To make a real difference you need get your heart rate up and break into a sweat.
The old guidance was not to drink more than the recommended levels of alcohol (those recommended levels are shown below) but this has changed in October 2015 to any alcohol consumption between the ages of 40 to 64 increases the risk of developing various forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. It is not about being teetotal but keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum, drop the glass of wine at the end of every day just have it on special occasions.
The old NHS guidelines suggest that men should not regularly drink more than 3–4 units of alcohol a day, and women should not regularly drink more than 2–3 units a day. A pint of lower-strength lager and a standard 175ml glass of wine each contain around two units of alcohol. We have left this guidance in to help people below 40 keep their consumption below sensible levels.
Poor diet can affect a person’s risk of developing many types of illness, including dementia. Maintaining a healthy balanced diet and a normal body weight is likely to reduce the chance of developing high blood pressure or heart disease, both of which put a person at greater risk of developing dementia. Avoid those ready meals and many processed foods because they give you too much sugar, bad fats and salt in your diet.
Eating a diet with a high proportion of oily fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined cereals such as whole-grain bread and olive oil, and low levels of red meat and sweets may help to reduce the risk of dementia. Remember to cut-out the high sugar level drinks as well.
Being Overweight or Obese
Being Overweight or Obese increases someone’s chances of developing risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. This means people who are overweight or obese, especially in mid-life (40 to 64), are at an increased risk of developing dementia.
Noting what was said above about Poor Diet and Physical Activity and making those lifestyle changes will help people to avoid becoming overweight or obese and (in most cases) help you to lose weight.
Research suggests that people who continual stimulate their brains by reading, learning or doing puzzles are less likely to develop dementia, compared with those who do not engage in these activities. Some research in Sweden showed that early life achievers and those that handled complex data at work had reduced risk of dementia.
Mental activity appears to increase the brain’s ability to cope with, and compensate for, physical damage. By being mentally active your brain can tolerate more damage before symptoms of dementia are detected. Be a life-long learner and take up new hobbies are great ways to challenge your brain and keep it active.
Other areas of risk are:
Depression is a probable risk in developing dementia. Do not suffer in silence with depression, you should seek help from the GP early because it can be treated, either with drugs or talking therapies (or both).
High blood pressure
High blood pressure in mid-life significantly increases the likelihood of developing dementia in later life. Once you are over the age of 40 you should make sure your blood pressure is checked regularly and follow any medical advice to keep it under control.
The risk of developing dementia has a strong link with having type 2 diabetes. Reduce your chances of developing diabetes by staying at a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet that is low in sugar. If you already have diabetes, it’s important to manage your condition correctly and follow medical advice.
High cholesterol levels in mid-life have been shown to increase your risk of dementia later on. Cholesterol levels later in life do not seem to have the same effect, but advice seems to change all the time so I would still control it after 65.
If you are the over the age of 40 then get your cholesterol level checked to make sure that you are within a healthy range. Your GP will give you advice on how to reduce your cholesterol if it is too high.
At Everycare, even though we are here to look after people in later life, we want to you all to live as independently and healthily as possible. We recommend you review your lifestyle and adapt it to live a healthy life. We can help by taking on some of the chores you hate doing while you carry on engaging in healthy activities.