With up to 400,000 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 show some different or unusual behaviours.
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 recognise signs of dementia, such as increased forgetfulness or changes in the person's usual disposition or behaviour, it's especially important to take proactive steps to reduce the risk of the disease.
Here's how you can help minimise your risk of developing dementia
Partake 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 seniors only need 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity a day to improve their 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 to play an instrument; and
- 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 fight 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.
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:
- 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:
- Green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach, broccoli, cauliflower;
- A variety of fruit, e.g. berries, pomegranate;
- Foods rich in omega-3 fats e.g. fish and soy;
- Lean red meat and chicken; and
- Unsaturated fats e.g. olive or canola oil.
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. Regular dental checkups are also an important part of a health care plan, as poor oral health can lead to malnutrition, a common finding in dementia.
How Anglicare can help