De­men­tia: Sort­ing the facts from the fic­tion

There are more than 850,000 peo­ple cur­rently liv­ing with de­men­tia in the UK – and it is the coun­try’s big­gest killer. But what causes it and can you pre­vent it? AMY PACKER un­rav­els the myths and mis­in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing one of the big­gest health challen

Gloucestershire Echo - - HEALTH & LIFESTYLE -

ALZHEIMER’S DIS­EASE AND DE­MEN­TIA ARE THE SAME THING False

DE­MEN­TIA is the name for a group of symp­toms that in­clude prob­lems with mem­ory, think­ing, prob­lem­solv­ing, lan­guage and per­cep­tion. It can be caused by dif­fer­ent dis­eases that af­fect the brain. Alzheimer’s is just one of these, al­beit the most com­mon.

SMOK­ING CAN LEAD TO DE­MEN­TIA Prob­a­bly

“AL­THOUGH we can’t say that smok­ing def­i­nitely causes de­men­tia, there is strong ev­i­dence it can in­crease your risk,” says Dr James Pick­ett, head of re­search at Alzheimer’s So­ci­ety.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, 14% of Alzheimer’s dis­ease cases world­wide can po­ten­tially be at­trib­uted to smok­ing. The two most com­mon forms of de­men­tia, – Alzheimer’s dis­ease and vas­cu­lar de­men­tia – have both been linked to prob­lems with the vas­cu­lar sys­tem, and smok­ing in­creases the risk of strokes or small bleeds in the brain, risk fac­tors for de­men­tia.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to know the ex­tent that to­bacco alone in­creases your risk of de­vel­op­ing it,” says Dr Pick­ett.

ONLY EL­DERLY PEO­PLE GET IT False

WHILE age is the big­gest risk fac­tor for de­men­tia, at least 42,000 peo­ple in the UK un­der the age of 65 are liv­ing with the con­di­tion. This is called early-on­set de­men­tia. Cer­tain types of de­men­tia, like fronto-tem­po­ral (FTD), more typ­i­cally set in be­fore the age of 65, and rare ge­netic mu­ta­tions can lead to de­men­tia in your 30s or even dur­ing child­hood.

A MEDITER­RANEAN DIET LOW­ERS YOUR RISK True

MEDITER­RANEAN di­ets are tra­di­tion­ally high in fruits, vegeta­bles, legumes and ce­re­als, with mod­er­ate con­sump­tion of oily fish and dairy, while be­ing low in meat, sugar and sat­u­rated fat. Most fat in this type of diet comes from olive oil, and al­co­hol is con­sumed in mod­er­a­tion with meals.

“In­flam­ma­tion in the brain is as­so­ci­ated with Alzheimer’s dis­ease, and there are signs that fol­low­ing this diet could re­duce such chem­i­cal in­flam­ma­tion,” says Dr Pick­ett. “Re­cent re­search has also sug­gested that the low lev­els of choles­terol in this diet may be linked with bet­ter mem­ory.”

DRINK­ING RED WINE CAN HELP PRO­TECT AGAINST DE­MEN­TIA False

THERE is a small body of ev­i­dence which sug­gests some chem­i­cals in red wine may be good for the brain, but it’s not clear whether it is ben­e­fi­cial in re­duc­ing de­men­tia risk.

How­ever drink­ing too much reg­u­larly can lead to al­co­hol­re­lated brain dam­age. Al­though not specif­i­cally a de­men­tia, many of the symp­toms, like poor plan­ning and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills, prob­lems with at­ten­tion and dif­fi­culty in con­trol­ling emo­tions, are the same.

DE­MEN­TIA IS CAUSED BY ALU­MINIUM PANS False

A LINK was first sug­gested in 1965, af­ter re­searchers found that rab­bits in­jected with an ex­tremely high dosage of alu­minium de­vel­oped twisted fi­bres of a pro­tein, known as tau tan­gles, in their brains – a symp­tom of de­men­tia.

Since then, re­searchers have in­ves­ti­gated the re­la­tion­ship be­tween alu­minium and de­men­tia, but no ev­i­dence has been found that the metal con­trib­utes in any way.

ADDING CIN­NA­MON TO YOUR FOOD WILL CURE ALZHEIMER’S DIS­EASE False

RE­SEARCHERS in Tel Aviv Univer­sity in Is­rael and North­west­ern Univer­sity in Illi­nois, US, ex­am­ined the ef­fect of an ex­tract from cin­na­mon bark – not the same as the cin­na­mon spice you might find in your lo­cal su­per­mar­ket – on the for­ma­tion of amy­loid plaques, a tell­tale sign of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

“Al­though the study showed that the ex­tract from cin­na­mon bark did help im­prove brain func­tion in mice, the lev­els of cin­na­mon a per­son would have to eat to repli­cate the re­sults would be so great it would ac­tu­ally be toxic,” says Dr Pick­ett.

CO­CONUT OIL KEEPS YOUR BRAIN WORK­ING False

THE the­ory goes that brain cells in some­one with Alzheimer’s are not as good at get­ting their en­ergy from blood sug­ars as they would usu­ally be in a healthy brain. Co­conut oil is ru­moured to be able to give the brain a boost by pro­vid­ing an al­ter­na­tive en­ergy source.

“The re­al­ity is that there is lim­ited ev­i­dence to show this ac­tu­ally works,” adds Dr Pick­ett. “A trial into the re­la­tion­ship be­tween co­conut oil and de­men­tia was started in the US, but was can­celled due to lack of par­tic­i­pants.”

DO­ING A-LEV­ELS LOW­ERS YOUR RISK True

RE­SEARCH by The Lancet Com­mis­sion on de­men­tia preven­tion, in­ter­ven­tion and care (2017) es­ti­mated that 8% of the to­tal num­ber of de­men­tia cases could be re­duced if ev­ery­one con­tin­ued in ed­u­ca­tion be­yond the age of 15.

“This is be­cause com­plet­ing sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion al­lows you to build up a ‘cog­ni­tive re­serve’ – a

TBC

re­silience to cog­ni­tive de­cline caused by the brain strength­en­ing its net­works,” says Dr Pick­ett.

TV AD­DICTS ARE MORE AT RISK THAN GYM BUN­NIES True

“WE al­ways say that if you want to try and re­duce your risk of de­men­tia, what is good for your heart is good for your head,” says Dr Pick­ett.

“Ex­clud­ing other fac­tors like ge­net­ics or pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions, peo­ple who have a more seden­tary life­style do tend to be more at risk of poor car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, de­pres­sion and di­a­betes, which are ma­jor risk fac­tors for de­men­tia.”

PEO­PLE WHO HAVE HAD HEAD IN­JURIES ARE MORE PRONE

AL­THOUGH there is in­creas­ing ev­i­dence of a link be­tween brain in­juries – which may be caused by any­thing from car crashes to re­peat­edly head­ing foot­balls – and de­men­tia, the short an­swer is we don’t know enough yet.

WOMEN ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET ALZHEIMER’S True

WOMEN with de­men­tia out­num­ber men al­most two to one and brain cells die a lot faster in women.

“The truth is we don’t fully know why this is the case, but one of the main the­o­ries rests with the fe­male hor­mone, oe­stro­gen,” says Dr Pick­ett. “It has a pro­tec­tive ef­fect on blood pres­sure and brain cog­ni­tion, but dur­ing menopause women stop pro­duc­ing as much, which could ex­plain why more women than men have de­men­tia.”

EAT­ING CURRY CAN PRE­VENT IT False

CURCUMIN, an ex­tract of turmeric, has been shown to have an­tiox­i­dant, anti-in­flam­ma­tory and anti-amy­loid (a hall­mark of Alzheimer’s dis­ease) prop­er­ties. How­ever, this re­search was very early stage, and fol­low-up clin­i­cal tri­als found curcumin didn’t show any prom­ise as a treat­ment.

YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET DE­MEN­TIA IF ONE OF YOUR PAR­ENTS HAD IT False

MOST de­men­tias are not passed down through the fam­ily, and more than 99% of Alzheimer’s dis­ease cases are not hered­i­tary. Ge­netic links are more com­mon in rarer types of de­men­tia, like FTD, but this makes up a tiny frac­tion of all cases.

“About 3% of peo­ple de­velop Alzheimer’s dis­ease be­fore they are 60 and in these in­stances it is most likely due to a faulty gene be­ing passed through the fam­ily,” says Dr Pick­ett.

■ ALZHEIMER’S So­ci­ety is a part­ner in Join De­men­tia Re­search (join­de­men­tiare­search.nihr.ac.uk), a na­tion­wide ser­vice that al­lows peo­ple to regis­ter their in­ter­est in par­tic­i­pat­ing in de­men­tia re­search and be matched to suit­able stud­ies. For more in­for­ma­tion on risk fac­tors and de­men­tia re­search, visit alzheimers.org.uk

WHEN we’re fused to our thoughts we re­act to them as though our thoughts are real, truth­ful, im­por­tant and un­ques­tion­able. In this state of fu­sion we re­act to thoughts such as “I’m use­less” as though we re­ally are and thoughts like “I’m go­ing to fail” as though fail­ure is a for­gone con­clu­sion.

The cop­ing strate­gies we use to try to con­trol these types of painful or un­wanted thoughts of­ten work to make us feel bet­ter in the short term but lower our qual­ity of life in the long term.

Think for a minute about the cop­ing strate­gies that you use to try to con­trol dif­fi­cult thoughts.

Per­haps you avoid cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple or places or put off im­por­tant tasks or de­ci­sions? Maybe you re­vert to de­nial, self­crit­i­cism or blam­ing oth­ers or use al­co­hol, drugs or med­i­ca­tion to qui­eten your mind?

Or per­haps you throw your­self into wel­come dis­trac­tions? We all do these things; it’s an en­tirely nor­mal part of be­ing hu­man. How­ever, once we re­alise

A Mediter­ranean diet could lower your risk of de­men­tia

Alu­minium pans haven’t been linked to de­men­tia

Liv­ing a more ac­tive life­style could lower the risk of de­men­tia

Change the way you han­dle your thoughts

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