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What can we do about dementia?

by LaterLife columnist Maggi Stamp

May 2017

There's still a long way to go to find out more about preventing dementia.

The consensus is that leading an active life, physically and mentally, is crucial for maintaining the healthy brain connections which are key in protecting us from building up the proteins that can so overwhelm brain cells that eventually they die.

1. A healthy diet is vital.

It should not be rich in fats, salt or red meat, sweets or the many foods and drinks to which sugar has been added. Instead, eat more fresh vegetables and fruit. And – importantly – cut down on alcohol.

Fruit and vegetables are vital because they provide and the many naturally occurring forms of sugar which, unlike added sugar, are healthy and energy-providing. Vegetables contain plenty of carbohydrates too.

We need, also, to walk, cycle, swim or whatever exercise we enjoy. Taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator when possible will help. If you travel through an airport, don’t just stand still on the ‘travellator' but walk along it. To me, that seems essential because sitting for a long time in an airport lounge, then on a cramped seat in the plane and then standing for an age in security is unkind to our bodies. So, walking whenever possible makes sense in many ways.

Reading, doing puzzles of all kinds and word games in books, magazines or online will stimulate the brain. My friends and I regularly play Scrabble online. There’s an accompanying chat box, so we keep in touch even as we play. 

2. Change your lifestyle.

A local friend has been helping her husband who, two years ago, was fading before our eyes. He was depressed, not sleeping well and suffering severe memory and task-orientated problems. But with help and specialist advice - and a great deal of courage and determination from his wife - his diet and pattern of life has changed radically.

He has been following a diet without any ready-made foods, all wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine or alcohol. He eats plenty of leafy green veg, fish, chicken and duck, seeds and nuts. Coconut oil, butter and milk are included and a little red meat, but only once a week or just one rasher of bacon.

He has no TV or screen exposure for an hour before bed and is always in bed before 11 o’clock, with the curtains and blinds slightly open to allow a slow natural yellow light awakening to start the day. Besides all that, he has specialist vitamin supplements from a consultant. 

The change in my friend’s husband has been remarkable. Although the couple accept that there hasn’t been a cure, because there isn't one, he is now active, sleeping well and again playing a full role in local organisations. He’s not depressed any more and looks and sounds so much better.

His regime and way of life is far from easy to maintain but is well worth it for him and all his family. It puts off the time when expensive residential care might become necessary. His wife makes it clear that making the changes to their life has been hard, and has even lost them some friends who think that catering for one guest's specific needs is just too difficult. But they have made new friends, people who understand that things have changed so wonderfully and are happy to include both my friend and her husband socially.

I have described just two out of many ways in which people try to protect themselves from developing dementia (1), or slow its development once diagnosed (2).

Whatever else you do to lessen the chances of developing dementia, then certainly talk to your doctor if you still have concerns, especially if you are having memory loss problems, are depressed or find problem-solving difficult. The sooner a doctor or specialist can see you, the sooner you can be reassured.

It may well be that your worries can be explained by increased stress or normal ageing symptoms. Or you could be given medication to slow symptoms. It might help to be put in touch with memory clinics and support groups – that could help you and your family should you be diagnosed with Alzheimer's or any other form of dementia.

Whatever the outcome, living a healthy, active life is the best protection and treatment you can have.

 


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