The race against DEMENTIA


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Next week is Dementia Action Week. Here we show you how to spot the signs and help reduce your risk…

It’s the illness that many of us fear most. Around 900,000 people in the UK currently live with dementia and sadly, this figure is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

While there are many risk factors we can’t control, research has concluded that by modifying those we can, we could reduce our prospect of developing this progressive brain disorder by around a third.

Tim Beanland, Head of Knowledge Management at Alzheimer’s Society says: ‘Unfortunately many people think memory problems are part and parcel of growing older. But it’s vital people don’t think dementia is a normal part of ageing.

‘Sadly, there are currently many tens of thousands of people living with dementia, who don’t know it yet. Many don’t know the signs to look for, believe what they’re experiencing is normal or that there’s no point getting a diagnosis because there’s no cure. But there’s so much help and support available if diagnosed.

‘It’s crucial people know how to spot the early signs of dementia to get the right help. But it’s also vital people don’t think that dementia is inevitable with ageing. There are so many things we can all do to help stave it off.’

Here, Tim explains…

Use it or lose it

‘There’s lots you can do to help make your brain more resilient to the changes that dementia might bring. Anything that engages your mind, makes you process information and develops your thinking skills makes a difference.

‘It helps if you’re still working or volunteering. Reading and doing puzzles is also really good, especially if you keep increasing the difficulty of what you’re doing to stretch the brain.

‘Likewise, socialising and stimulating conversation can be equally beneficial for keeping our brains in shape. In fact, staying mentally and socially active is particularly important in middle age because dementia is caused by diseases in the brain like Alzheimer’s, which can start decades before somebody gets any symptoms.’

What’s good for the heart is good for the head

‘A lot of problems with dementia are related to our cardiovascular system, so lifestyle changes that benefit our heart, benefit our 
brain also.

‘It’s therefore no surprise that doing regular physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia. Ideally a mix of aerobic, strength and balance exercises are best.

‘Try to do 150 mins of moderate aerobic exercise a week, such as brisk walking, tennis or lawnmowing and muscle-strengthening exercises like heavy gardening, dancing or tai chi twice a week.

‘Diet is also key. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables and no more than 6g of salt a day. Too much salt increases your blood pressure which increases your risk of developing dementia. Meanwhile keep sugary foods as occasional treats too, as too much sugar increases your risk of type 2 diabetes which more than doubles your chance of getting dementia.

‘Alongside a healthy diet, try to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week and work hard to quit smoking.

‘It’s important to ensure your health checks are all up to date too. Hearing loss, sight loss and untreated depression may increase our risk of dementia 
or be early warning signs.

‘As with heart health, good sleep is integral too. Research suggests that too much or too little sleep can increase your dementia risk, as can sleep apnoea.

‘Ultimately, the more awareness you have over your health, the more you can manage it and reduce your risk of dementia.’

Edited by Stephanie May

  • This Dementia Action Week (16-22 May), Alzheimer’s Society is helping people take their first step towards a dementia diagnosis. If you’re at all worried, visit alzheimers.org.uk/MemoryLoss

Five early signs of dementia

  • Forgetting things. Problems with memory or thinking start to cause you concern, with noticeable decline over months, not years.

  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks like getting dressed or flicking through TV channels to find a favourite soap.

  • Making frequent bad decisions. Someone’s not processing information like they used to, or their personality changes a lot within months.

  • Struggling with words. Forgetting the names of common objects, words or quickly losing the thread of what someone’s saying.

  • Changes in mood. Withdrawing from socialising or losing interest in hobbies.

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