Dementia: Time to fight back – Part 2

This post is the last in a series on dementia.

There are over 35.6 million people living with dementia worldwide. With aging baby boomers, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is expected to triple by 2050. With this in mind, many wonder how families will cope, how health facilities will operate and how things will turn out for our loved ones and for us.

The good news is that AD is not entirely a genetic disease. You can decrease your chances of getting AD if you reduce or eliminate the following factors: inactivity, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, lack of learning and decreased social involvement, smoking, depression and unresolved stress or anxiety. If you’re worried about your health and would like to make some changes, talk to a medical practitioner.

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Regular exercise is one of the best ways to prevent chronic diseases. As highlighted in my previous post on dementia, physical exercise increases brain structures and enhances cognitive function. In addition, when done regularly, it can control or eliminate AD risk factors such as depression, stress, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Further, people who exercise generally eat a healthy diet and don’t smoke.

Some highlights on primary prevention

A diet that is healthy for your heart is also healthy for your brain. Avoid processed foods and add more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and complex carbohydrates, nuts, fish and lean meat. A diet rich in omega-3 but low in cholesterol, saturated fats, sugar and salt can reduce the risk of dementia. For more on a healthy brain diet, read here.

Maintain consistent blood sugar levels by consuming fewer refined sugars and substitutes. For example, replace sugared processed drinks with fruit water. Keep a jug of water in your fridge filled with orange, lemon or lime slices and fresh mint leaves. It’s tasty, healthy and inexpensive. Eating small frequent meals four to six times a day instead of three large meals can also stabilize sugar levels.

Vitamins B-12, C, E, magnesium, folic acid and other B complex vitamins can improve cognitive function. Talk to your health care provider before taking any supplements.

Unresolved stress and anxiety can cause you to slide into cognitive impairment. It’s crucial that you recognize your situation and symptoms (e.g. difficulties sleeping or concentrating) and that you seek early interventions. Behavioral modification, mindfulness therapy or exercises  and relaxation methods can help you recover.

When depression is left untreated, the brain can become toxic and this can contribute to AD or vascular dementia. Depressed people produce high levels of stress hormone cortisol, which can have detrimental effects on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. Clinical depression should be detected early and treated accordingly.

Having few positive social interactions and mainly feeling lonely can also lead to cognitive decline and dementia. Exercise or walk with one or a few friends or relatives. Join a fitness group. If you are not working, be part of a volunteer or an interest group. Learn new things and stay curious. Problem solving, learning, talking and exchanging ideas with others are essential to your mental health.

As more people seek healthier lifestyles, societies and communities need to respond and restructure to promote long-term health. The workplace, private and public sectors should make health promotion and disease prevention a priority so that people can better implement and adhere to the changes that they need.

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Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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