As we age our bodies tend to undergo many physical and physiological changes. While most of these changes are an inevitable part of the aging process, some of them can be prevented with timely understanding and care. Dementia or rapid deterioration of brain cells, is one such preventable illness. It is important to understand that dementia is a medical condition and not just forgetfulness that comes with old age. If you have parents who are constantly misplacing objects or fumbling for words, it is time for you to probe a little more into the reason for their condition.
In this article, we focus on busting some common myths associated with dementia, and on outlining steps for its prevention and control.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of medical conditions that lead to impairment of several normal functions of the brain. This condition often interferes severely with the patient’s everyday functioning. The commonly observed symptoms include loss of memory, behavioral changes, difficulty in reasoning and abstract thinking, etc.
Causes of Dementia:
Dementia is caused by several physical changes occurring in the brain. The most common reasons for dementia include:
This condition is so common that it is often used synonymously with dementia. In an Alzheimer’s patient, the hippocampus, temporal and parietal lobes of the brain undergo atrophy, i.e., the brain cells in these regions deteriorate rapidly. This leads to a loss in short term memory, weakened visual-spatial cognition, reasoning, and speech problems.
A brain stroke or a physical injury to the brain might damage the blood vessels supplying blood to some parts of the brain. This leads to insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain and loss of brain cells. The extent of damage to the patient’s cognitive functioning depends on the blood vessels affected. If the affected vessels supply blood to important cognitive centres like hippocampus, the damage is more severe.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB):
This condition is characterized by the development of protein deposits in the patient’s nerve cells, called Lewy bodies. This impairs the normal functioning of the patient’s nerve cells.
What are its symptoms?
The symptoms of dementia depend on the area of the brain affected. The following are the commonly observed symptoms:
- Loss of memory
- Difficulty with abstract thinking
- Impaired reasoning
- Behavioral changes
- Inability to perceive and react to time and spatial changes
- Difficulty in balancing
- Gait and motor problems
- Speech problems (an inability to recollect words is commonly observed)
- Urinary incontinence
How to reduce the risk of dementia?
The knowledge of the causes of dementia helps us notice that dementia is preventable in most cases. To shield your parents from dementia, encourage them to adopt a few lifestyle changes that allow them to regularly exercise all their physical and mental faculties. Let us take a closer look at what your parents can do to forever prevent the occurrence of this condition:
Regular physical exercise:
It is backed by scientific research that exercise allows your brain to maintain old neural connections and form new ones. This aids significantly in delaying brain cell deterioration and improves cognition. To combat the risk of dementia, make sure that you indulge in some form of physical exercise such as cardio, walking or swimming. Balance and coordination exercises such as yoga and Tai Chi are great choices as they help prevent undesired falls and injuries.
Another sure measure to keep dementia at bay is the habit of exercising the brain. Solving crosswords, playing Sudoku and other mind games like chess are all fun ways to keep your brain cells active and firing.
Long term stress can prove majorly detrimental to many brain functions. It affects memory and damages brain cells. In order to reduce stress, encourage your parents to meditate or practise controlled breathing. Listening to soothing music or indulging in a hobby of their choice (like gardening), can also control stress and trigger pleasure hormones. Spending time with family and loved ones also proved to be stress busting.
Did you ever observe that you are your most depressed self when you feel lonely? Being isolated and lonely can increase stress and affect significant brain functions. Volunteering for a social cause, joining a club, travel, meeting up with friends and family, are all great ways to keep your brain active and alive.
Sleeping isn’t just a time to relax the body. It is during those hours of night that the body repairs and renews its cells and systems. Make sure that you sleep for a minimum of eight hours every night for a healthy body and brain.
It goes without saying that eating right is vital to staying healthy. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by brain cell death caused by inflammation and insulin resistance. Consuming a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is essential to keep your brain healthy. Do not forget to include food rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as tuna, salmon, sardines, etc. These fatty acids contain DHA, which helps in preventing dementia by reducing the formation of protein deposits in the brain.
Though it might seem inevitable, dementia is a perfectly preventable condition. Adequate and timely precautions, such as the ones mentioned above, are all you need to reduce the risk of dementia in your parents. Carers of dementia patients must understand that with some patience, love, and care, the condition is not only manageable, but also treatable. After all, there is hardly any disease or disorder that love cannot heal!