Dementia is a crippling condition that is the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and stroke.
It is a crippling condition that strips the sufferer of any quality of life, and creates heartache for family members watching their loved one slip away slowly.
However, I believe that it is a condition that we can prevent. Taking measures and action throughout your life can decrease the risk of dementia for you and your loved ones.
Recently I lost my own mother to dementia. She was only 64 and far too young to be taken in this way. (I am sure you may agree with me, family are the last to listen. When we are kids we don’t listen to our parents and when we are adults our parents don’t listen to us.) There are many people my mother’s age and younger being affected by this condition. Dementia is a disease that seems to be harder on the family of the sufferer than on the person afflicted with the condition. Watching a loved one slowly become incapacitated is hard. It is a tragedy that the sufferer loses their quality of life. Their last days/weeks/months generally involve being physically incapacitated – heavily reliant on others for daily activities such as bathing, toileting, feeding and dressing.
Dementia can affect people in their 60’s, however some forms of dementia have been seen in people in their 30-40’s. These ages are just too young. People are not getting the chance to fully enjoy their life. Dementia is the progressive decline of a person’s functioning – it affects mental processes, memory, intellect, physical functioning, social skills and communication skills.
According to Alzheimer’s Australia, 280 000 people currently live with dementia and this is expected to rise to 1 million by 2050. This places a heavy burden on family and care services such as nursing homes and hospitals. The label ‘dementia’ covers several types – the most recognised type is Alzheimer’s. Other types include Lewy Body Dementia, Parkinson’s, Alcohol related Dementia, and Vascular Dementia.
There is no one cause of dementia. Several factors have been identified as causes of dementia. They include:
* Abnormal protein deposits in the brain eg Alzheimers and Lewy Body Dementia,
* Hardening of the arteries/ atherosclerosis of blood vessels –
usually this sign is linked with heart disease and diabetes,
or low oxygen supply or poor blood flow,
* Head Injuries,
* Chronic Stress and Depression,
* Drug Use,
* Alcohol Abuse,
* Toxic Exposure eg heavy metals, organophosphates,
* Nutritional Deficiencies.
Things that you can do to prevent Dementia:
- Reduce your stress levels. Chronic stress has been identified as a factor that can cause damage to the delicate tissue of the brain and cause imbalance of neurotransmitters (brain hormones). Use Relaxation Techniques such as meditation, yoga, music therapy, walking along the beach or in a park, or reading a book. Whatever activity helps to reduce your stress levels.
- Address the causes of Depression. Depression has been correlated with Dementia. By addressing the causes of depression and correcting it and identifying any brain neurotransmitter imbalance you can reduce your risk. See your health professional or counsellor for help.
- Avoid drug use and long term alcohol consumption. These substances can damage the gentle structure of the brain and inhibit the ability of the brain to repair.
- Reduce your exposure to Industrial Pollutants, Pesticides, Herbicides and Heavy Metals. Chemicals in Industrial pollutants, Herbicides and Pesticides can be stored in delicate nerve tissue such as the brain and disrupt function and cause damage. Heavy Metals are known to disrupt cellular function. Amalgam fillings, Aluminium and Copper cookware, Aluminium containing deodorants, tattoo’s, heavily polluted cities, and old houses with lead based paints are all potential sources of heavy metals. Reduce your exposure to these chemicals and metals will not only help to reduce your risk of dementia but also many other health conditions. If you are concerned about exposure – there are tests available to determine your health status and treatments available to reduce your toxin load.
- Avoid activities that increase the risk of head injury and concussion. There have been studies conducted about impact sports and head injuries and risk of dementia. Sports like boxing and full contact sports such as rugby and grid iron can increase your risk of head injuries and concussion.
- Ensure your Vitamin D levels are optimal. Low Vitamin D has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression. These conditions can be an increased risk for dementia. Vitamin D is produced in the skin when there is exposure to sunlight. Food sources include: butter, eggs, animal liver products, cod liver oil and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines.
- Enjoy regular physical activity such as walking, yoga, swimming. Regular movement helps to reduce stress hormones, reduce inflammatory chemicals, increases blood flow to the brain and helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Ensure that your eating program is nutritious, packed with green leafy vegetables, low in refined sugars, high in omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidant nutrients.
Some researchers have labelled Dementia as ‘Diabetes 3’ meaning that chronically elevated or poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage the delicate tissue of the brain and is possibly linked with the damage seen in some types of dementia.
Diets high in saturated and trans fats (such as fried foods) can contribute to atherosclerotic changes seen in heart disease causing a reduced blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
Nutrients such as Omega 3 fatty acids, Antioxidants, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 are vital to the health of nerve tissue and can prevent conditions such as dementia. Many people in Australia do not eat enough cold water fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and anchovies. Tuna should be eaten sparingly due to their high Mercury content and so some find that supplementation using a fish oil liquid or capsule to be more convenient.
Antioxidant nutrients such as Vitamin E and the phytochemicals found in green tea and berries help to protect against oxidative damage of the delicate brain tissue.
Vitamin B12 is vital to nerve health. This is only found in animal products and so vegetarian based diets can be deficient. A percentage of the population can have absorption issues with Vitamin B12 and may need a supplemental form.Some genetic predispositions can increase the requirement of one’s Vitamin B12. They are called ‘poor methylators’. For instance I have the gene for poor methylation that can increase my risk of dementia, like my mother. By knowing my genetic predisposition, through simple genetic testing performed at Gold Coast Integrative Wellness, I am able to ensure that I have extra Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid to reduce my risk.
Requirements for these nutrients can depend upon your absorption capabilities, genetic predisposition, and your demand. It is in your best interest to discuss your diet and lifestyle with a health professional and possibly undergo some testing to determine your health status, genetic predisposition or your requirements.
Prevention is always better than cure. Making some minor changes to your diet and lifestyle can ensure the best overall health for you and reduce your risk of dementia.