Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are on the rise globally. As per the Alzheimer’s Association, in the US alone, 1 in 6 seniors are living with the disease. It is also the 6th leading cause of death in the US.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are often confused to be one and the same. However, this is not true. Although Alzheimer’s dementia and vascular dementia form the majority of cases of dementia, dementia can occur in other forms or due to other reasons as well. For example, hypothyroidism causes short-term dementia which is reversed when the condition is cured.
Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms which are indicative of cognitive or brain-function decline. This includes memory loss, slow thinking, confusion in simple matters, problems with language or speaking coherently, inability to carry out everyday activities, etc. The person finds it difficult to register new information, has memory loss around day-to-day activities, gets lost while walking or driving in familiar territory, appears more withdrawn now while previously a cheerful person, is no longer conscious of social inhibitions and speaks without thinking, shows poor judgement in routine matters, etc.
With increasing awareness about the disease and a rich body of research worldwide, it’s clear that there are several ways to ward off dementia and slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. This article will briefly cover all of them, and focus more on one of them.
Ways to ward off Dementia
- Break sweat: Exercising regularly and getting your heart rate up is one of the most important ways to prevent dementia of any type. Exercise ensures blood supply to all parts of the brain which aids in building neurological connections.
- Eat healthy: A diet that is rich in processed foods, refined foods and unhealthy fats can be disastrous for your brain health as it leads to build-up of plaque in your brain’s arteries. Switch to a healthy diet comprising fresh produce and healthy fats.
- Get a lot of sun: A severe deficiency of Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 can trigger or sustain dementia. While oral medication can overcome B12 deficiency, it’s important to get ample sunshine to overcome Vitamin D deficiency.
- Be socially active: Loneliness is known to trigger depression and reduce cognitive function, both of which are risk factors for dementia. Catch up with friends and family as often as you can.
- Cut down on smoking and alcohol: Smoking induces inflammation, vascular damage and oxidative stress in the brain, all of which are risk factors for dementia. So also, alcohol can induce alcohol-related brain damage.
- Manage weight and cardio health: High blood pressure and Obesity are risk factors for dementia, type 2 diabetes, heart attack and strokes. Staying within a healthy weight limit is critical to warding off dementia.
- Seek help for depression: Depression accelerates vascular damage and oxidative stress in the brain, both of which can trigger dementia, creating a vicious cycle of depression and dementia. If you already suffer from depression, seek counselling immediately.
- Manage stress: Mental or emotional stress may be inevitable to a lot of people but how one manages the same decides if one is at risk of dementia or not. Yoga, meditation, physical exercise and a positive outlook to life can help you manage stress better.
- Challenge your brain: As explained below.
Challenging your brain
After physical exercise that breaks sweat, staying mentally active and challenging your brain on a daily basis are extremely critical to ward off dementia.
- Games and puzzles: Crosswords, puzzles, quizzes, video games, etc force you to think quickly, recall information, choose between options and make decisions – all of which sustain and improve cognitive function.
- Sign up for a course: Learning a new subject of study, a new language or a musical instrument involves a lot of brain work, which helps in systematically creating new neurological connections. This is very effective in preventing or warding off dementia.
- Read more often: TV is known to dumb down people while reading is known to improve cognitive function. Spend 2 to 3 hours a day reading thought-provoking books, articles, blogs, and the newspaper.
- Indulge in a hobby: If you already have a hobby such as philately, or if you are part of a special interest group, continue the same or spend more time than before.
- Use specific apps: There are various apps that are full of games which improve cognitive function, prominent ones being Luminosity, Clever Mind, Brain Trainer and Dakim. Download these apps and use them regularly.
- Sing, or enjoy music: Melodious music is known to ward off depression, so listen to music as often as you can. Further, if you have a talent in singing, practise it regularly.
- Experiment with cooking: Cooking once in a while is known to be therapeutic. So dish out a snack you are familiar with, or look up the recipe for a new item and prepare it.
- Indulge in handiwork: Arts, crafts and hobbies that require close coordination between hands, eyes and the brain are very useful in improving cognitive function. If you already have such an interest, continue the same. Else, develop such a hobby.
- Keep a diary: Maintain a daily journal. Document interesting information like 5 new things you learnt today or 5 interesting incidents from your part.