Ten daily steps.
Chances are, you know someone whose family has been affected by dementia. The increasingly common disorder affects over 850,000 people in the UK and sadly, this number is expected to rise to 2 million by 2051. But what does the condition actually involve, and what are the early warning signs?
Many of us think of dementia as memory loss, but it is actually defined as an array of symptoms caused by a particular disease (for example, Alzheimer's disease). The first symptoms can include forgetfulness, difficultly carrying out simple tasks, confusion and general mood changes. As the underlying disease progresses, symptoms of dementia can include becoming withdrawn, total memory loss and language problems among many others.
While there are still a lot of unknowns about dementia and the underlying diseases, it's thought that a common cause is an abnormal build up of proteins in the brain, which over time causes damage to nerve cells. While there is no cure for the diseases that cause dementia, there are certain medications that can help alleviate some of the symptoms, for example, medicines like donepezil can help to improve brain function and symptoms in people with Alzheimer's disease.
However, because of the limitation of treatments, there is a strong focus on prevention and delaying the onset, which can involve a variety of at-home exercises.
Here, Consultant Neororadiologist Dr Emer MacSweeney, ex CEO of Dementia UK, Barbara Stephens, and Dr Sarkhel share their top tips that you can do daily.
“Socialising and maintaining friendships help to reduce anxiety and depression and improve cognitive sharpness and performance at every stage of life and can also help reduce the risk of dementia,” says Dr Emer MacSweeney. A 2007 study published in in the American Journal of Public Health looked at over 2200 women in the US, finding that older women with large social networks were 26% less likely to develop dementia than those with smaller social networks.
Simple daily challenges such as remembering phone numbers, calendar dates, shopping lists, directions and instructions are a great way of keeping the brain mentally active. “Stop the reliance upon smart phones and give your brain a workout!” says Dr Emer MacSweeney. “Our brain is a muscle and just like the body it needs to be exercised to be strong, fit and performing at an optimum level.
A buildup of amyloid in the brain causes Alzheimer’s disease, so it is imperative we get 6-8 hours of quality sleep every night to safeguard against the disease. Research indicates that sleep is a powerful weapon in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease. Dr MacSweeney comments, “When we sleep, our brains clear away plaques, proteins and toxins that have built up over the day. Amyloid proteins are understood to be waste from energy the brain uses when communicating, which is swept out during deep sleep.
Take up a musical instrument
The benefits of learning to play a musical instrument in younger life are numerous and continuing this interest in later life has been shown to improve cognitive performance and memory. A recent study, conducted on 157 pairs of twins found that learning a musical instrument, for the first time, in adult life can also help to reduce the risk of dementia.
Embrace nature and get outdoors
Being outside and breathing in fresh air has many health benefits. It helps people to digest food more effectively, improves blood pressure and heart rate, and strengthens the immune system. Contact with nature yields positive emotions, which are, in turn, associated with a range of long-term health habits such as giving up smoking, better sleep quality and reducing the risk of vascular disease.
Food that is good for heart health has a positive impact on brain health. The
body is a finely tuned organic system that can only function well with good nutrition. A diet low in fat, salt and processed carbohydrates is advisable. Healthy choices include fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts, whole grains, pulses, beans, lean meat and fish. Alcohol should be kept to a minimum although there is some evidence to suggest that red wine in small quantity can have a protective effect against dementia.
Simple breathing-based mindfulness exercises are a great way to keep our brains active. Regular engagement in mindfulness exercises has shown to improve frontal lobe functioning which is situated in the front part of the brain, near the forehead.
Cognitive Stimulation Therapy
Another option is to intervene with Cognitive Stimulation Therapy which often takes place in a group therapy environment. This therapy stimulates the brain and can help with thinking, concentration and memory. Common group activities include a variety of puzzles and discussions of the past and future, current topics of interest, art, gardening or baking.
Increase your physical activity. Again this directly relates to improving your vascular health which can reduce your risk of dementia - activities such as going for a walk, improving your nutrition and reducing stress levels are all beneficial. Certain activities in isolation will not reduce your risk of dementia - but a combined effort to look after your vascular system will be highly beneficial.
Lower Alcohol Intake
Lower your intake of alcohol to improve your vascular health which will be highly beneficial to preventing dementia.
This originally appeared on GLAMOUR UK | Millie Feroze