Dementia has become a rapidly growing public health problem that affects about 50 million people around the world. There are almost 10 million new cases every year, which threatens to triple by 2030. As medicine and access to healthcare become better and more prevalent, people are living longer and longer, and the threat of cognitive decline in the later stages of life is a serious concern for everyone. As with other diseases, people look to preventative measures, root causes, and vaccines, however it is very different with dementia and other similar illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia is very difficult to prevent, there is no vaccine or definitive cause that can be pinpointed to cause the onset of dementia every time. In some cases a stroke can be attributed to the reason dementia developed, and there are ways to prevent further decline by lowering their risk of heart disease and another stroke. A person may not be showing signs of heart disease or have had a stroke, but there are ways to limit their risk of cognitive decline and dementia simply by making healthier life choices.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) released new guidelines on dementia and other cognitive decline diseases that include ways to reduce the possibility of developing them. While implementing all of these suggestions will not guarantee that your life will be dementia-free, it will most certainly help, as well as have a positive affect on your overall health and well-being.
Here are their guidelines:
- Physical activity: remain physically active in a way that is safe and appropriate for that person’s age and ability (range of motion, energy, etc.).
- Tobacco cessation: stop smoking altogether, tobacco use has been linked to a decline in overall health.
- Nutritional interventions: following a Mediterranean diet has been linked to lowering the risk of developing dementia. A healthy, balanced diet is recommended.
- Alcohol use disorder: alcohol has a harmful effect on cognitive ability, with alcohol abuse causing long-term cognitive decline. It should be taken in sparingly or removed from the diet.
- Cognitive: specialised cognitive exercises or training has had a known and remarkable effect on people with mild dementia, suggesting that training and exercise keep the brain functioning more optimally. Stay mentally alert by learning new hobbies, reading, or solving crossword puzzles.
- Social activity: Social participation and social support are linked to good health and well-being throughout life and should be continued through the golden years for its positive effects. Stay involved socially by attending community activities, church, or support groups.
- Weight management: Care should be taken to maintain a safe weight according to that person’s health, height, and age. Obesity or being overweight has been known to adversely affect health.
- Management of hypertension: high blood pressure should be monitored and medically treated by a medical professional.
- Management of diabetes mellitus: Diabetes is considered a risk factor for vascular dementia, which occurs due to brain damage that is often caused by reduced or blocked blood flow to the brain. Diabetes needs to be properly managed by a medical professional.
- Management of dyslipidaemia: dyslipidemia similarly induces vascular disease which could also develop into vascular dementia, and should be properly managed.
- Management of depression: late-life depression has been linked to social isolation and poor health, which has been associated with subsequent vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Management of hearing loss: some research has revealed that hearing loss speeds up cognitive decline due to the lack of interaction and social activity. Hearing loss can often be well-managed with a hearing aid.
Preventing dementia is a very difficult thing to do, since we do not know all the causes. Research does indicate that adopting a healthy lifestyle from as early on in life as possible helps to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia. Following these guidelines will also help to delay or slow down the progression of the disease in someone showing early signs of dementia or in the early stages.
The more you know and understand about the disease the better you can help loved ones or yourself in prevention and care of the disease. Finding out or suspecting that your loved one is developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be a frightening time, however it is important to note that you are by no means alone. There are trained professionals and facilities like Livewell Villages that specialise in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia care that can help you every step of the way.
Find out as much as you can about the disease and the available treatments so that you can make informed decisions with your loved one about their health and care options, and make sure you use all the Alzheimer’s support available out there.