I have become more and more interested in dementia in the last few years, partly, I think, because my parents are ageing therefore I presumed it will affect them (in fact, I was wrong, it is not a given), and partly because as a volunteer, I have had some really interesting dementia training via Dementia Friends.
First things first I want to dispel a myth about dementia in that it is not something that just happens to everyone as they get older. Although your chances of developing dementia increase as you get older, it isn’t an inevitable part of later life. There are lots of young people who have dementia as well.
Dementia is actually caused by different illnesses. It is a term doctors use to describe different problems, caused by diseases that stop a person’s brain from working properly.
Our brains are our bodies control system, responsible for everything we think, feel, say and do. When a person has a diseases that affects their brain, they have problems remembering, thinking and speaking. They do things that seem strange and often don’t seem like the person they used to be.
Although most of us forget things from time to time, like where we put our wallet or keys, this does not mean we have dementia. Symptoms of dementia slowly worsen until they actually get in the way of daily life.
From my fact-finding, largely done on the very excellent Alzheimer’s Research website, one of the things I have found most amazing is that just like looking after your heart through exercise and healthy eating for example, you can also look after your brain as well.
And taking steps to look after your brain actually reduces the risk of dementia
Here’s three step the experts recommend:
Love your heart
The same things that lower the risk of heart disease, also reduce the risk of dementia! So cutting out smoking, getting out for a walk, exercise in general and eating a balanced diet are as good for your brain as your heart. Going to your GP, having a health check and following the advice really is a good move for your brain too.
Challenging your brain, whatever age you are, is also a way to protect yourself. They think it is because mental activity helps build up your brains ability to cope and keep working even if faced with a dementia disease. So whatever you enjoy doing that makes you think – reading, crosswords, board games, learning a language, playing an instrument – it’s good for you!
Being socially active is the final piece of the puzzle. Whether that is zooming with your friends, volunteering, joining a class, chatting with your neighbours, taking up a hobby with other people, whatever you do that connects you with other people, it not only makes you happier and more positive in general, it makes your brain healthier.
And here are some more facts I also found interesting
Dementia is more than memory loss:
It is a set of symptoms including problems with remembering, thinking and speaking as well as behavioural changes. It’s caused by diseases of the brain that damage brain cells and the links between them. Alzheimer’s disease is most common, accounting for around two thirds of cases of dementia in older people. But there are several other types of dementia each affecting people in very different ways.
Dementia is rarely passed down in families:
As dementia is common, many of us will have a relative living with the condition – but this doesn’t mean we will get it too. Our risk of dementia is made up of many complex factors, including our age, environment, lifestyle, health and whether we carry any risk genes. Only in rare cases does a family carry a faulty gene that causes a disease like Alzheimer’s to be passed down from parent to child.
So here are some top tips to reduce your risk of dementia
- Have a health check & follow the advice
- Have a diabetes check & follow the advice
- Quit smoking
- Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables
- Stay active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Drink no more than 14 units a week
- Use your brain through activities and social groups
Finally, when I did my dementia training as part of my volunteering with Move the Masses, I learnt a lot about how you can support people living with dementia that I would not have known before. There was a really useful analogy around a tipping book case, classing different memories as books about to fall, and also about people’s heightened emotional feelings. I found this video explaining it, which I think others will find useful.
As mentioned earlier, Alzheimers Research website is a great resource with lots of top tips and questions answered.
Dementia Forward in Yorkshire support people living with dementia.
Why not do the training and become a Dementia Friend?