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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Lower your risk of dementia: Five things to remember

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Find out how you can combat the early onset of Dementia with a few simple steps, writes Maha El Akoum.

We have all heard of dementia – a medical condition known to cause cognitive impairments such as memory loss. However, it is also associated with an overall decline in judgement, orientation, calculation and even the use of language can be impaired.

Early signs of dementia include symptoms such as mood swings, trouble finding the right words, confusion, repetitiveness and poor sense of direction. You can therefore tell that an affected individual can gradually reach the stage where they are unable to perform everyday activities such as brushing their teeth, showering or changing their clothes. 

With the recent rapid advancement in the medical field, the population of the world is now ageing faster, more than any time in history. Seeing as dementia mostly affects older people, it has become a major public health concern worldwide, with institutes such as the World Health Organization declaring it a global priority. Currently, the number of people living with dementia is estimated at 47 million, a number that is expected to double by 2030, and triple by 2050. 

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While the general misconception is that dementia is a “normal” part of the ageing process, field experts know this not to be true. It is most often caused by brain cell death that happens over time. Once this has taken place, it cannot be reversed, which is why there is no known cure for degenerative dementia.

However, this type of cell brain death is not only triggered by genetics, but, like most diseases, it is a complex interplay between your genetic make-up and your environment and lifestyle. Silver lining: there are changes we can make to our lifestyle that can either postpone the onset of dementia. 

Exercise. Research has shown that physical activity can help prevent the development of dementia or even slow down its progression in those who have started to show symptoms. The general recommendation is to exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. In addition to mental wellbeing, it is also good for your heart and brings with it other health benefits. What are you waiting for? Sign yourself up for that spinning class.

Give your brain a regular workout too. Have you heard the saying “use it or lose it”? Research has also shown that people who remain actively intellectually stimulated, either by solving puzzles, playing cards, reading, doing crosswords or Sudoku, were diagnosed later than those who were not as cognitively active.  

Don’t smoke. Quit smoking. Don’t start it in the first place. Avoid it at all costs. Abandon your smoker friends. Just kidding (maybe). Being a smoker not only puts you at a higher risk of developing dementia, but it also harms your lungs and heart. But you already knew that. 

Eat a healthy balanced diet. You quickly learn in public health that most, if not all, things boil down to this. Eating a healthy diet, with a high intake of vegetables, fruit, fish, unrefined and unsweetened cereals, olive oil and low levels of red meat and sugar will help you reduce your risk of dementia (and heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and more). So, throw out your cookie jar and start munching on those celery sticks!

Stay close to your friends and family. Not only are close friendships good for your soul, but a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that they are good for your brain too. Participants who reported feeling positively supported by their family and friends showed a decreased risk in developing dementia. Strengthen your relationships, spend more time with those closest to you or even meet new people by taking on new social activities and hobbies (that are also good for your brain).

Maha El Akoum, MPH, is a public health professional currently working as Head of Content at World Innovation Summit for Health [WISH].


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