How can I pre­vent de­men­tia?

Toronto Star - - LIFE - Nira Rit­ten­berg

My sis­ter and I are car­ing for our mom, who has de­men­tia. We are get­ting ner­vous and wor­ried that we too will have this fate in our fu­ture. Is there any­thing we can do? Need a plan!

It is un­der­stand­able why you are fear­ful. It is hard to watch the dif­fi­cul­ties that de­men­tia brings to an in­di­vid­ual and a fam­ily.

Re­search is un­der­way to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what some of the risk fac­tors are, as well as the life­style choices that seem to sup­port bet­ter out­comes for brain health. It is im­por­tant to re­al­ize that this is not easy re­search and that there are many fac­tors at play.

Re­searchers are work­ing hard to fig­ure out what in­creases or de­creases a given per­son’s chances of get­ting the dis­ease. There are sev­eral risk fac­tors; these in­clude how one lives their life, ge­net­ics, age and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Like many dis­eases, the im­por­tance of each of these risk fac­tors is dif­fer­ent for dif­fer­ent peo­ple. We know that the dis­ease process be­gins in the brain be­fore we are able to see the symp­toms of it, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Uri Wolf, a geri­atric psy­chi­a­trist at Bay­crest.

There is also an emerg­ing body of work that sup­ports the be­lief that high blood pres­sure, di­a­betes and high choles­terol puts an in­di­vid­ual at greater risk of de­vel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Eighty per cent of peo­ple with car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease also have Alzheimer’s. There seems to be some­thing in that con­nec­tion.

Ex­er­cise ap­pears to play an im­por­tant role in low­er­ing the risk of vas­cu­lar de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s. In­creased oxy­gen and blood flow as a re­sult of ex­er­cis­ing are likely the way that this helps the brain. A study of older adults who ex­er­cised aer­o­bi­cally demon­strated that these in­di­vid­u­als im­proved their abil­ity to re­mem­ber past events, day­dream and also think ahead to the fu­ture.

The other part of the brain that showed im­prove­ment from ex­er­cise is the re­gion as­so­ci­ated with plan­ning and or­ga­niz­ing. This is the area of the brain re­spon­si­ble for what we call “ex­ec­u­tive func­tion.”

Diet is known to im­pact and re­late to many dis­ease out­comes, but the idea of heart and “brain healthy” eat­ing is now also en­cour­aged and sup­ported by re­search. A diet that min­i­mizes hy­per­ten­sion is one that has been shown in stud­ies to be help­ful. In this type of diet, peo­ple are en­cour­aged to eat a lot of veg­eta­bles, as well as fruit and low-fat dairy prod­ucts. This diet also dis­cour­ages sugar and fatty foods. The now well-pub­li­cized Mediter­ranean diet is one that fo­cuses on whole grains, fish, nuts and oils, with min­i­mal con­sump­tion of red meat. These di­ets are con­sid­ered healthy and can help pro­tect the brain from dis­eases such as de­men­tia.

Be­ing con­nected to oth­ers so­cially seems to also play an im­por­tant part in en­sur­ing your brain stays healthy. Re­searchers are not clear on why this is, but the men­tal stim­u­la­tion as­so­ci­ated with so­cial­iz­ing ap­pears to help the nerve con­nec­tions in the brain. Be­ing en­gaged with oth­ers in a so­cial man­ner and stay­ing men­tally ac­tive has a pos­i­tive im­pact on the brain.

Another emerg­ing fac­tor for brain health is the link be­tween head trauma and de­men­tia. In­di­vid­u­als with a his­tory of head in­juries are more likely to de­velop de­men­tia. Re­search con­tin­ues in this area, but pre­vent­ing head trauma means mak­ing sure that you are pro­tected with a seat belt, that you use hel­mets for sports and do all that you can to pre­vent falls that can in­jure your head. Mak­ing sure your home is fall-proofed is a good start.

Be­ing con­nected to oth­ers so­cially seems to also play an im­por­tant part in en­sur­ing your brain stays healthy. Re­searchers are not clear on why this is

DREAMSTIME

Risk for de­men­tia de­pends on life­style, ge­net­ics, age and the en­vi­ron­ment, Nira Rit­ten­berg writes.

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