If you don’t have dementia you can significantly reduce your risk by taking three significant steps. Brain tissue is not like a lump of putty. It is very delicate, and you can protect it by taking three important steps.
The first step is to protect the brain tissue from damage.
- Firstly, sleep well, at least seven hours a night. If you are having sleeping problems look at NHS Choices to develop a strategy for improving your sleep. It is a myth that people need less sleep as they get older. The opposite is the case and you should aim for eight hours good sleep each night.
- Secondly, try to minimise the effects of stress and again NHS Choices has an excellent session on managing stress. Stress is a reaction to external pressures and some stress is good but when stress gets past the point of being good it does increase the risk of dementia.
- Thirdly make sure you are not being over-treated. Modern medicine is wonderful but sometimes when a person is involved with two or three branches of the medical profession the prescriptions which each specialist prescribes interacts with one another but not in a positive way so if you are more than five different types of medication discuss with your pharmacist or your GP if they are really all necessary.
The second step is to keep the arteries to your brain healthy.
Vascular dementia is one of the most common types of dementia and it can result from the arteries of your brain either furring up with the condition called atherosclerosis or having mini strokes because of a disorder called atrial fibrillation which causes irregular heartbeats.
One way to approach this is to think that your heart and the brain are affected by the same things. There is a very good heart age tool developed by Public Health England which you can find on the website and this links to a number of measures you can use to reduce your risk of heart attack and your risk of vascular dementia.
- Stop smoking obviously even if you have tried numerous times before, give it another go.
- Improve your diet by moving by moving to the Mediterranean, to the Mediterranean diet that is, and follow this link to see sensible advice on the Mediterranean diet.
- Increase the amount of physical activity you take, both brisk walking and daily activity to keep your core muscles strong and supple. Aim for at least thirty minutes a day in three ten-minute batches at least five days a week, or seven is sometimes easier because it becomes part of daily routine
- Reduce your risk of dementia by tackling other conditions that affect the arteries notably type II diabetes, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol
All of these of course are interrelated and will help your brain and the heart.
The third step is to keep your mind active and engaged.
The mind and the brain are inter-related and even if you keep your brain healthy you also have to keep your mind healthy in the following way:
- Avoid isolation and keep in contact with other people
- Depression is a cause of dementia and is of course often caused by isolation and so if you are depressed visit your doctor or follow up this link to learn about psychological therapies on the NHS which you can access directly.
- Keep engaged and keep more engaged with other people.It is good to learn a new skill, for example, a new language or to improve your skill at crosswords or sudoku, but the main thing is to keep engaged with other people and the more challenging the task the better so volunteering not only good for the person you help it is very good for you.
Who is there to help?
If you are worried about getting dementia or you are worried about someone you think is getting dementia all the steps outlined above are very important, but it is also important to see your GP and in particular to ensure that you are not being over-treated.
In the first instance it is the general practitioner and the team at the local health centre who may call in specialist help but there are very good websites particularly the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK with information and support for individuals and families.