Dementia is a term used to describe any condition that causes deterioration over time of a variety of different brain functions such as memory, thinking, recognition, language, planning and personality. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50–60% of cases of dementia. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.
Most kinds of dementia have similar symptoms including: loss of memory, problems with thinking and planning, difficulties with language, failure to recognise people or objects, a change of personality.
Approximately 50,000 New Zealanders have dementia and that number is expected to triple by 2050.
As yet, no single factor has been identified as the cause of dementia, and there is no cure. But there are ways to potentially reduce your risk of developing dementia and to maintain good brain health.
The general rule is what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. The evidence shows that people may reduce their risk of developing dementia by adopting healthier lifestyles. Much of what’s needed are simple activities you can do in your day to day life. Remember, it’s never too late to make any of these changes. Here are 5 ways to reduce your risk of dementia:
1. Look after your heart
Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity all damage blood vessels. This increases the risk for both heart attacks and strokes. Research has also shown that these conditions can increase the chances of developing dementia later in life.
2. Be physically active
Physical activity and exercise can help to control your blood pressure and weight. There is also some evidence to suggest that being physically active can help to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
3. Follow a healthy diet
Food is fuel for both brain and body. In order to keep both functioning properly we need to consume a healthy, balanced diet. Some evidence suggests that a Mediterranean-type diet, rich in cereals, fruits, fish, legumes and vegetables can help to reduce the risk of dementia. Eating lots of fatty and processed foods is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, and are best avoided.
4. Challenge your brain
By challenging the brain with new activities you can help build new brain cells and strengthen the connections between them. This may be helpful in slowing the decline in thinking abilities
5. Enjoy social activities
Social engagement may also be beneficial to brain health because it stimulates our brain reserves, helping to reduce our risk of dementia and depression. Try and make time for friends and family, you can even combine your activities with physical and mental exercise through sport or other hobbies.