DEMENTIA is now the UK’s biggest killer and most feared health condition.
But there are ways to keep your brain healthy and reduce your risk of contracting it.
Around one million people are currently living with dementia and more than half of the population admit they would put off seeking a diagnosis for up to a year or more because they are terrified of the results.
But Dr Katy Bray, an awareness adviser at Alzheimer’s Research UK, says that keeping active, taking up a new hobby or sport and maintaining a good social life can reduce the risks.
He said: “Leading a healthier lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing dementia by up to 40 per cent.
“It’s about keeping the brain healthy.
“Research has found that most cases of dementia start in the brain ten to 15 years before there are any symptoms, so it’s important to look after yourself now.
“You may not be able to prevent dementia, but you can reduce the risks.”
Here, Alzheimer’s disease doctor Dr Bray tells Sun on Sunday Health all about dementia.
Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. Dr Bray says: ‘Around two in 100 people aged 65-69 have dementia, and this rises to one in five for people aged 85-89.
“Women account for 65 percent of cases. It’s not known exactly why women are more affected, but women live longer.”
WHAT EXACTLY IS DEMENTIA?
Dementia is not a single disease, but the name for a collection of symptoms such as problems with memory, thinking, mood, emotions, perceptions and behavior caused by certain diseases that cause gradual damage to the brain.
The two main diseases are:
Alzheimer’s: It represents 60% of cases. An abnormal build-up of proteins deposits plaques and tangles in and around brain cells.
vascular dementia: 20 percent of cases. Caused by brain damage due to impaired blood flow to the brain. Sometimes after a stroke, it blocks an artery in the brain.
Dr Bray said: “There is also dementia with Lewy bodies where certain proteins are deposited inside the brain cells. These deposits are also found in people with Parkinson’s.
“And frontotemporal dementia, which can affect people between the ages of 45 and 65 before.
“Traumatic brain injury can also cause dementia and can be seen in boxers, football players and soldiers.
“Research is still ongoing to see if we can reduce the risk of dementia in soccer players by catching the ball.”
WAYS TO REDUCE THE RISKS OF DEMENTIA
Dr Bray said: ‘Cut down on alcohol, don’t smoke, eat healthy, maintain a healthy weight, keep your blood pressure low, get good sleep and exercise and you’re halfway there.
“Take care of your heart and body. Then, keep your brain sharp and social. So go for a walk with friends, learn a new skill with other people, or take part in crossword challenges.”
Other tips include:
- Get a hearing aid: People with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia and this rises to three times for people with moderate hearing loss. Dr Bray said: “Wearing hearing aids as soon as you have problems could reduce the risk.”
- Treat depression: People who become depressed late in life have a 70% increased risk of dementia and those who have been depressed since middle age have an 80% increased risk.
- Don’t feel alone: Loneliness is associated with an approximately 50 percent increased risk. Staying connected with others is one of the three pillars of Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Think Brain Health campaign.
- Memory: Regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces.
- Repeat: More and more repetitive.
- Wrong things: Periodically place objects or place them in strange places.
- Confusion: Not sure of the date or time of day.
- Disorientation: People may be unsure of their whereabouts or get lost, especially in unfamiliar places.
- Language: Trouble finding the right words.
- Mood and Behavior: Some people become low mood, anxious or irritable.
Dr Bray said: “If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP. The sooner you are diagnosed, the sooner you can get a treatment plan together.”
DRUGS can delay the severity of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Dr Bray explained: “The drugs, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, can mask the symptoms.
“Brain changes can mean they don’t work as well after a couple of years.
“But research continues to improve the way we treat the disease, stop it in its tracks and eventually find a cure.
“We’re also looking to catch it before symptoms show.”
For help, call Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Dementia Research Infoline on 0300 111 5 111.
It is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
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