How do we prepare for Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Elderly couple keeping active and spending social time together outdoors.

Australians today are living longer than ever before. Largely thanks to antibiotics and vaccines that conquered deadly infectious diseases such as polio, whooping cough and meningitis. There have also been significant improvements in the treatment and prevention of the other major threats to a long and healthy life, such as heart disease and many types of cancers. The one disease that medicine has failed to have an impact on is dementia, and specifically, Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Crisis

In 2017, Alzheimer’s disease was the second leading cause of death in Australia after heart disease, and the leading cause of death in women over 85.  The number of new cases of dementia recorded, currently at around 90,000 per year, is predicted to double every 20 years. By 2056, it will be 240,000 each year. That’s more than the population of Geelong. The statistics for Alzheimer’s disease are sobering, especially to anyone over the age of 65.

Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of ageing. The longer we live, the more likely we are to develop the disease. Lapses in memory, the ability to recall particular words or make decisions are all pretty normal as we age. However, in Alzheimer’s, these kinds of changes occur earlier, and get worse over a much shorter period of time. There is no cure. Currently the drugs available to help reduce the symptoms are only effective for a short time.

It is really important to stay mentally active and keep connected with your friends and family

Lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s

While this all might sound a bit confronting, there are some changes you can make to your lifestyle. Reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease with these proven lifestyle changes. The first two are the same advice your doctor will give you to maintain your general health – stay physically active and eat a healthy diet. Exercise not only increases blood flow to the brain, but maintains the connections between brain cells, which keeps them healthy.

You also need to ‘look after your heart’ – specifically the health of the blood vessels. Any disease that increases the strain on the blood vessels, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. The good news is that this risk can be reduced if these conditions are managed through medication. Identifying and treating these conditions earlier is best. If you are a smoker the best thing would be to quit as soon as possible.

Keep physically and mentally active

It is really important to stay mentally active and keep connected with your friends and family. Any activity that challenges your brain with a new task or that keeps you connected with the outside world is good for your brain. While it is comforting to keep doing the things you are familiar with, your brain benefits from tackling new tasks.

There are no guarantees that adopting these measures will prevent you from developing dementia. However, taking steps to keep your brain active and your body healthy will certainly help. Several factors determine who is most at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, most of which are yet to be clearly determined and unfortunately are beyond your control. What you can control is your lifestyle and the choices you make to keep yourself as healthy as possible into the future. So, grab a friend, or a partner, and do something active. Go for a walk, cook a delicious meal to share, and learn something new. Your brain will thank you.

You can find out more about how to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease at https://yourbrainmatters.org.au/.

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