Dementia can be prevented, at least partly. This is one of the main messages the dementia research community released on this year’s World Alzheimer’s Day, which was observed on September 21.
Dementia is the second most dreaded disease of aging Albertans. Until recently it was believed that nothing can be done to prevent the disease. In this context, the Alzheimer’s Day message comes as a great relief.
Does this mean that all types of dementia can be prevented? Researchers clarify that one-third of all cases of dementia is due to vascular dementia, and this type of dementia can be prevented. The amyloid plaques and tau neurofibrillary tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease may not be that easily preventable. However, the risk reduction strategies outlined below can help delay the onset and progression of the disease.
Vascular dementia refers to the dementia that follows a stroke. Either a single massive stroke, that compromises the blood supply to a large part of the brain or a series of mini-strokes – tiny areas of the brain that lack blood supply – can contribute to vascular dementia. White matter disease, characterized by blood vessel changes in the deeper parts of the brain, also leads to vascular dementia.
It is believed that having a single stroke doubles the risk of vascular dementia. Since strokes are very closely related to the health of our heart and arteries, by taking care of our cardiovascular health we can prevent strokes and vascular dementia.
The risk factors for vascular dementia include high blood pressure, diabetes or high blood sugar, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sedentary life style, carbohydrate rich diet, and excessive stress. It is believed that by controlling these risk factors strokes can be prevented.
Researchers have outlined the following strategies for reducing the risk of dementia:
Moderate intensity exercise for a minimum of150 minutes per week, or 30minutes, most of the days of the week can reduce the risk of developing dementia. 10 minutes of brisk walk three times a day also works.
68 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily is required for the high-risk group.
Avoid falls and wear a helmet when you are biking and playing hockey.
Challenge your brain & improve your cognitive reserve
Pursue a new interest such as learning a new language or playing a musical instrument, taking a course or going to the theatre. Engaging in life-long learning and playing games such as chess, bridge, puzzles etc. are also beneficial for risk reduction.
Reduce the stress in your life
Exercise, relaxation, yoga, meditation, entertainment, hobbies and socializing are essential parts of our health and well-being. Get adequate sleep and laugh a lot.
Activate your social life
Keep in touch with old friends and also make new friends. Participate in service clubs, volunteer work, or join a hobby group.
Retired people who regularly volunteer at least one hour every week, have 2.5 times less risk of dementia compared to those who do not volunteer regularly.
Adopt healthy life style choices
Follow a Mediterranean diet, based on whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, oily fish, olive oil, and wine within permissible limits. Alternatively, switch to MIND diet consisting of green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, whole grains, oily fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine (within permissible limits). Reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet.
Ensure that your body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar are normal. Consult your doctor if you have any of these conditions.
Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake to one standard drink for women and two standard drinks for men, not exceeding 3-5 drinks for women, and 5-7 drinks for men per week.
Seek timely medical help
If you have symptoms of depression or if you are experiencing hearing loss, please address them immediately.
The current teaching is that it is easier to prevent dementia than to cure it. So let us incorporate all these strategies in our daily life and reduce our risk of dementia.
Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in Gerontology, has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. A past resident of Red Deer, and a past board member of Red Deer Golden Circle, she is now a Learning Specialist at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. Please send your comments to email@example.com