We are all living longer so it is inevitable that as a result of our longevity there is an increase in dementia amongst our elderly. I have a particular interest in Dementia and Alzheimers as my grandad who lived next door to us growing up, suffered from Alzheimer's for 20 years. It was awful seeing this strong man with great a sense of humour lose himself, become scared and lost in his own house and thoughts as his memory of who we were disappeared.
In fact, 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with this devastating illness, with figures predicted to rise to 1 million by 2025 and 2 million by 2050 (2). At the moment there is no cure for dementia and although genetics and age are not something we can control, there are ways we can tweak our lifestyle choices to strengthen our brain to keep it working longer and help reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life.
A Mediterranean Diet high in fruit, vegetables, fish, olive oil, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, reducing non-lean red meat, sugary snacks, alcohol and processed foods together with lower amounts of high fat dairy has long been associated with maintaining a healthy heart and lowering the risk of certain cancers. This diet also seems to lower the risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment and slow down the condition, so what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. This was highlighted in the media recently when a lady suffering with Alzheimer’s who at her worst, didn’t recognise her son changed to a mediterranean style diet rich in blueberries, sweet potato, kale and broccoli amongst other things and started to do crossword, jigsaw puzzles together with exercise and taking part in more social activities saw a significant improvement after a few months. It wasn’t an overnight cure but amazing to see how making changes to your diet,combining exercise and stimulating the brain can make a big difference even when the disease has already taken hold.
Exercise fights dementia
Again, we all know exercise is high on the things to do to keep healthy, fend off heart disease, cancers and help with depression but it also has been proven to slow down mental decline and improve memory. Exercise releases powerful endorphins chemicals in the brain which gives you that ‘feel good’ feeling and uses up the excess adrenaline and stress hormones in our body that can cause the free radicals that cause oxidative stress. A great stress buster! In addition to moderate physical activity that raises your heart rate, including strength training such as yoga, pilates or working out with weights or resistance training builds muscle mass in the brain. Exercise stimulates the brain to make new neural connections as well as maintaining existing ones.
Use It, Or Lose it!
Keeping your brain active can help with memory and slow down cognitive decline and research has found that doing activities like crosswords, card and board games, reading, writing and brain training exercises lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. (3) Learning new skills such as a different language or how to play an instrument are great ways to keep mentally focused and help challenge the brain. Aim to stimulate your brain every day, there are so many different Apps these day to keep the grey cells active!.
As humans, we are not designed to cope on our own and need others to bring out the best in us and help us thrive. Having a good social life helps us to make good friends who are interested in you and stops you from feeling isolated. It also helps to lower stress levels, boosts strong neural connections and staves off cognitive decline. Interacting with others makes our brain work by paying attention and using our memory. It also has a positive impact on our mental health.
A study in JAMA, has found that people over age 65 who drank up to one alcoholic beverage a day had about half the risk as non drinkers over five to seven years. Another study reported that resveratrol, a compound in red wine, broke down beta-amyloid (abnormal deposits of protein associated with Alzheimer's disease) in laboratory experiments, suggesting that red wine in particular may be protective, but further study is needed.(3) Obviously it is not advisable to drink to stop dementia but as the saying goes, ”‘A little of what you fancy does you good!”. Up to two drinks a day for a man and one for a woman are the current guidelines.
When we sleep the brain removes toxic waste through the glymphatic system allowing harmful toxins to be removed including harmful proteins that have been linked to brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s for example. They also found that the brain shrinks by 60% while we sleep which allowed for more effective waste removal.
Sleep is vital for physical emotional and mental wellbeing and helps your body and brain recover from a busy day and lets you feel alert and ready to deal with what life throws at you the next day! Not getting enough sleep makes it harder to think clearly and can affect your memory.
Hope you find these tips interesting and hopefully as more research is done into this illness that robs our loved ones of their independence and ability to do basic tasks we will know more and more and fingers crossed for a cure. However, we are all responsible for our own health too and these steps start us to fight back against the disease for a better future.