Do you struggle to remember words for things?
Do you go into rooms but can’t remember why?
Do you get told that you keep asking people the same questions?
Or do you suddenly get into a bad mood but dont know why?
These may just be signs of getting old, or they may be early warning signs of dementia. The problem we face is that there’s still no reliable way of dementia being diagnosed. Possible methods in the pipeline include a blood test for proteins, an eye test for the thickness of the retina or a special memory test to help gain an early diagnosis.
We are, at least, making progress in identifying dementia’s possible causes. Genetics, nutrition and lifestyle factors are all risk factors. And as awareness spreads, more people may start taking steps to reduce their dementia risk through adopting healthier lifestyle habits.
Until a pharmaceutical magic bullet is found (current progress doesnt look good), in the battle against dementia we need to focus on PREVENTION rather than cure.
- Avoid “Anti-Cholinergic” Medications
The precise cause of dementia is still unknown. Although the latest research suggests that a main cause is chronic inflammation causing toxic amyloid plaque to appear on the brain.
It’s also feared that some OTC treatments for colds and flu, hay fever, allergies, high blood pressure, bladder problems, depression and heartburn that contain ANTI-CHOLINERGIC drugs could make the risk of dementia worse.
The Indiana University School of Medicine conducted MRI scans of the brains of 451 people with an average age of 73 to see what effect these drugs may have on cognitive impairment and dementia. They also held memory and cognitive tests.
The people taking anticholinergic drugs were found to do worse in the memory and problem solving tests. They also had SMALLER brains and BIGGER cavities inside the brain. In other words, the drugs appeared to make their brains SHRINK.
The study’s authors have warned: “Use of AC [anti-cholinergic] medication among older adults should likely be discouraged if alternative therapies are available.”
‘Given all the research evidence, physicians might want to consider alternatives to anticholinergic medications if available when working with their older patients. The impact of these drugs have been know about for over a decade, with a 2013 study finding drugs with a strong anticholinergic effect cause cognitive problems when taken continuously for as few as 60 days. Drugs with a weaker effect could cause impairment within 90 days.’ – Dr Shannon Risacher
Why is this?
The reasons why these anti-cholinergic medications are feared to worsen memory and concentration is because they’ve been found to block the chemical acetycholine in the brain.
Acetylcoline is one of the most important neurotransmitters in the brain, and is responsible for sending signals the brain relies on to function properly. Less acetylcoline naturally means the brain works slower, and explains why people with dementia typically have lower levels of this vital neurotransmitter.
2. Stop eating processed junk
Dr Marilymn Grenville, PhD and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Medicine, was the first medical professional I’ve heard refer to dementia as “type 3 diabetes”.
If you have diabetes you’ve a 50% higher risk of Alzheimer’s. So it makes sense that to limit your risk of dementia, you should observe the same lifestyle habits that lower your risk of diabetes too.
The 60% rise in type 2 diabetes in the last decade is stongly linked to processed sugars, like sucrose, dextrose and fructose, as well as sweeteners, like aspartame and agave nectar. They are believed to cause a condition known as “glycation”, which has been linked to premature aging of the skin and aging of the brain.
The problem is that processed sugars are tough to avoid. You’d be amazed at what foods contain sugars and sweetners these days. This includes spagetti sauce, mayonaise and white bread.
To prevent these processed sugars rotting your brain, you need to start replacing junk processed food with a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.
With diabetes and dementia so strongly linked, it makes sense to adopt a diet recommended for reversing the symptoms of diabetes to help protect your mind.
The best foods for diabetics are foods with a low glycemic index. These are foods that are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised. This in turn prevents blood sugar spikes and keeps insulin at a safe level.
One of the most popular low glycemic index diets is the Mediterranean diet. This diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, oily fish and olive oil. All foods packed with brain enriching nutrients.
3. Boost Omega 3 and Vitamin D Levels
Another benefit of eating oily fish is that it’s packed with Omega 3 fatty acids. Multiple studies have found that Omega 3 has an anti-inflammatory response that can help improve blood flow in the brain.
However, you’re body can’t produce it on its own. So unless you eat oily fish once a week, it’s a good idea to top up your levels with an Omega 3 supplement over the age of 50. Omega-3 also contains DHA, which may help prevent amaloid plaque formation on the brain.
Another supplement to consider is Vitamin D. A Vitamin D deficinency, from not getting enough natural sunlight, has been found to cause a 53% higher risk of dementia. Unfortunately, your body isnt able to produce much vitamiin D from food. So unless you can get outdoors more often, It’s may be worth taking a daily vitamin D supplement as well.
4. Daily Brain Training
Your brain is a muscle. Like the muscles in your arms and legs, you need to exercise it daily to keep it fit and healthy. To put it bluntly – use it or lose it.
One of the wonderful things about the human brain is that its function is not fixed. You’re never too old to improve how well it performs. And you can continue to learn new tricks as you get older.
Instead of passive Netflix binges, consider doing things in the evenings that give your brain a workout. Play board games, do crossword puzzles, learn a language or take up dancing. Engaging in pursuits that force you to think on your feet have been found to delay cognitive decline.
5. Get 7-8 Hours Sleep
Recently it was discovered that the brain has a type of shampoo that cleans it when you sleep. It was discovered that when we sleep our brain actually shrinks. A fluid then washes it of the toxins and waste products that have accummulated during the day.
It’s called the “glymphatic system” and its discovery has reinforced the vital health benefits of 7-8 hours sleep a night. Although not yet proven, the discovery of this “sleep shampoo” has raised concerns that sleeping pills may interfere with the process and increase your dementia risk. It could explain why we feel groggy the next day after taking sleeping pills as it’s possible they may stop the glymphatic system working properly and prevent the brain being cleansed of toxins when we sleep.
Widespread lifestyle changes are urgently needed in the war against dementia
In the UK there are now over 850,000 people living with dementia. This costs the health system £26 billion a year, but still pales in comparison to the emotional cost of seeing loved ones losing their identities and living their lives lost and confused.
Unless there is a big change in how we diagnose, treat and PREVENT dementia occuring in the first place, the numbers are expected to double by 2051.
Following the five steps outlined may help people to reduce their risks and avoid the terrible toll dementia can take on the lives of sufferers and their loved ones.