Living in a retirement demographic area, I often hear others lamenting they are losing their memories, or their keys, have problems remembering people’s names, etc. Dementia is jokingly mentioned, but many seniors do worry it can happen. Our family doctor says if you put the milk in the cupboard by mistake and then retrieve it – you’re OK; but if you think it’s OK to be in there, you may want to see your doctor. He also states that we all have a 50-50 chance of experiencing dementia unrelated to family history or even if you have one parent who had dementia.
Recently I attended two meetings on dementia that were fact-filled. Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of conditions that affect one’s cognitive abilities in ways that affect daily life. The three subtypes of Dementia are mainly: 1. Alzheimer’s Disease ( Plaques and tangles form inside the brain causing chemical deficiencies). It is believed that this can start to have an effect on the memory center 2. Vascular Dementia (decreased blood flow the brain and different from Alzheimer’s in that it is caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain, commonly caused by strokes). Approximately 20% of all dementia cases are vascular, making it the second most common type. Risk factors include a history of heart attacks, strokes – especially multiple strokes, diabetes, or high blood pressure. 3. Dementia with Lewy Bodies – This is the third most common form of dementia and is caused by build-ups of a certain type of protein in the brain. These deposits are called Lewy bodies and they effect a person’s perception, behavior, and thinking. Lewy bodies are often found in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s patients, making this form of dementia harder to diagnose.
The National Institute for Aging estimates about 7 percent of people over 65 will have some form of dementia. What can one do, if anything, to protect oneself from risk factors? You can affect your risk by how social you are, your exercise habits and your heart and diabetes management.
Although ‘seniors’ store vast information over the years, they sometimes need extra time to remember where they stored that info in their brain. Like an over-programmed-filled computer that ‘searches’ for info and takes extra time to find it, so do our brains. What a relief to remember albeit slower!
Some suggestions on how to reduce your risk factor:
- Spend at least one day a week with younger people, especially grandkids, even if it is on Skype video or the telephone. Stay social with friends and family.
- Walk, hike or swim (150 minutes of moderate exercise – weekly).
- Treat depression; talk to your doctor; depression is linked to higher dementia risk. And sometimes depression can appear to be dementia.
- Cook and eat heart healthy. Strive for a diet low in saturated fat, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to go over your medications with you to see if any are at a risk for contributing to dementia or lacking in some vitamins.
- Take some courses or classes. It can stimulate your brain and/or socially meet new people.
- Volunteer your time to a cause or interest you support.
Staying connected to friends and family is key and one of the most important ways to avoid dementia. The risk of dementia is higher if one is lonely or isolated. Millions of people 50 and older (about 1 in 5) live alone and are at risk of isolation. The fastest growing type of household is individuals living alone. And many of those over 50, have no one to talk to about important matters.
Try to stay socially active; If you are homebound and/or can’t get around easily, learn to text on a cell phone or video chat or even social media chat, ie, Facebook. Twitter. In a busy world, a hello by text, especially to the teens & young adults in our lives, wlll ensure a faster return quicker than a return phone call. If you are not up-to-date in technology in computers or cell phones, there are FREE courses to learn about them. And a good brain exercise.
Being socially active, getting regular exercise (physically and mentally) and managing chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease) are all plusses to reduce your chances of dementia.