With up to 472,000 Australians living with dementia and the number rising rapidly as Australia's 'Baby Boomers' pass the age of 65, the symptoms of dementia may be something to look out for, especially if the person you are caring for is starting to experience concern about their memory or there is a change in their normal behaviour.
What is dementia?
Although many people use dementia and Alzheimer's Disease (AD) interchangeably, there is an important distinction. Dementia is simply the general term used to describe the signs and symptoms of more than 100 conditions that can affect a person's memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer's Disease is only one of these. Others include:
- Dementia due to Lewy Body Disease or Vascular problems
- Dementia related to Alcohol abuse
- Dementia from Fronto-temporal Lobe Degeneration
While it's helpful to recognise signs of dementia, such as increased memory problems or changes in the person's usual disposition or behaviour, many other conditions present with the same early symptoms so it is very important to visit your doctor to determine the cause as it may be something that is easily treatable.
Here's how you can help minimise your risk of developing dementia
Participate in regular physical and mental activity
Staying physically active can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are conditions known to increase the risk of developing dementia. Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Adults suggests you only need 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity a day to improve/ maintain good health.
Examples of this type of activity include:
- Brisk walking
But don't leave out the brain - it requires exercise as well. Healthy activities for the brain involve thinking and learning tasks. The more novel the activity, the better. Here are some ideas for mental exercises that are suggested for brain health:
- Learning something new! Perhaps to play an instrument or learn a new language
- Going to the theatre, museum or concert.
It's also important to note that good self-care means getting the right amount of rest. Sleep improves neuroplasticity (the ability to of the brain to re-wire itself), according to Aged Care Insite, so plan to have a good night's sleep by creating a routine around going to bed. Close the curtains or blinds, turn off laptops, phones and iPads at least an hour before you intend to retire, and have a shower and warm drink to relax yourself!
Seven to eight hours of sleep a night is recommended, but this can vary between individuals.
Engage in social activity
Social stimulation can help reduce loneliness - which is thought to contribute to cognitive decline. In fact, research findings indicate the health impact of loneliness and lack of social connections is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).
Low levels of social stimulation can also contribute to an increased risk of dementia. Research suggests that social connectedness supports brain plasticity and helps to maintain cognitive reserve. Talking to other people, keeping in conversations, sharing our stories are all great ways to exercise our memories and keep our brains functioning well.
Social connectedness can also help to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure can contribute to poor memory, so the right environment with friends and family can reduce the stress and anxiety that are often contributing factors to decline.
Staying socially engaged is easy when you participate in activities such as:
- An Anglicare Social Group
- A book club
- Dance classes
- Volunteer work
- Travelling clubs or family reunions/celebrations
Enjoy a healthy diet
A diet which follows the Mediterranean principles is considered best practice, this may include:
- An abundance of vegetables each day such as broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale
- Fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, apples, bananas, pears, oranges, figs, peaches and pomegranates
- Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as avocado, salmon, sardines and tuna
- Keeping red meat consumption to only small amounts once or twice a week
- Cook only using extra virgin olive oil and drizzle it on salads and vegetables to increase your essential fatty acid intake
- A handful of raw nuts each day
- Try adding some legumes into your diet each week such as lentils, chickpeas and beans
- Reduce processed food intake as much as possible and eat fresh food wherever possible. Flavour foods with fresh herbs and spices.
As we age the body is less able to process alcohol, therefore a maximum of 1-2 drinks per day is recommended to reduce the risk of dementia. Red wine is the best alcoholic drink option if you must have a drink. Regular physical and dental check-ups are also an important part of a good health care plan.
How Anglicare can help
Anglicare offers the following services:
Cognitive assessments and brain training - A comprehensive medical assessment evaluating your existing health and cognitive wellbeing is an important step towards recognising and reducing your risk of dementia or further decline. Obtaining a baseline assessment provides a guide for you to optimise lifestyle approaches. This multidisciplinary assessment will involve a physical assessment, blood and ECG, as well as cognitive testing.
Also available is a face-to-face interactive brain training program which explores ways to support the brain while teaching strategies that can boost memory performance.
If you register as an Anglicare At Home client, you can access these services under a Government subsidy.
For more information on any of these services or anything else