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Lowering your risk of dementia and how to live with it

More and more people are living longer, but this also means that the number of people with dementia is increasing.

It is estimated that there are around 850,000 people suffering with dementia in the UK. This statistic roughly equates to around one in three people over the age of 65. Furthermore, it is estimated that by 2021, around 1 million people in the UK will have dementia and this figure will significantly increase to 2 million by 2051.

This blog post provides an overview of dementia as a disease, how to reduce your risk of developing it as you get older and, if you are affected, how to live with it.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a neurological condition that is linked with the gradual decline of the brain and its functions. It is caused by brain disease or brain injury.

What problems can dementia bring?

Those who suffer dementia can experience a range of problems including the following:

  • loss of memory;
  • problems with language;
  • issues with understanding and reasoning;
  • loss of judgement;
  • reduced thinking speed; and
  • impaired reasoning

Those living with dementia may experience problems controlling their emotions and they might become apathetic towards their usual activities. They can also find social situations difficult to deal with.

Some aspects of an individual’s personality might also change. They may lose the ability for emotional understanding and empathy, they might hear or see things that are not there and they might make statements or claims that are simply not true.

People might find planning and organising far more difficult as the condition affects more of a person’s mental abilities. This can severely limit their independence and mean that family and friends often have to support them with their day-to-day activities.

Is it possible to reduce your risk of dementia?

While there is no one method which, by itself, will prevent or limit the risk of dementia, there are steps you can take to improve your odds of staying well. The best route is to consistently maintain a healthy lifestyle which can, of course, have the added benefit of reducing the risk of various other conditions, such as heart attack and stroke.

Here are a few simple measures you can take to live a healthier lifestyle, and potentially reduce your risk of developing dementia when you get older.

1.       Follow a healthy diet

Following a diet that’s high in fibre and low in fat can help to reduce the risk of particular kinds of dementia. A simple way to do this is to add plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains to your diet.

Saturated fat can also play a role in increasing the risk of dementia, so it’s wise to reduce how much of this you eat in particular types of food and drink. Excessive amounts of saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol levels which in turn can increase your risk of developing some types of dementia later in life.

Reducing your salt intake to 6g a day can help as well. High levels of salt in a diet can cause increased blood pressure, raising your risk of developing dementia.

2.       Take regular exercise

Making sure you exercise regularly will help to keep your heart and blood system working well, lower your cholesterol levels and keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

It is generally recommended that most people undertake a minimum of 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate exercise each week. Exercises such as speed-walking, jogging or cycling are suitable for the majority of people.

3.       Maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is a good way to lower your risk of suffering from some types of dementia. This is because being overweight or obese can raise your blood pressure and, thereby, in turn increase your risk of dementia.

4.       Reduce your alcohol intake

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of developing particular types of dementia as well as other conditions.

A unit of alcohol is equivalent to about half a pint of lager, a small glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits (25ml). For men, a daily limit of three to four units of alcohol is recommended. For women, this figure is two to three units a day.

5.       Give up smoking

Smoking increases your blood pressure by causing your arteries to narrow. This raises your risk of developing dementia. Giving up smoking can help to reduce your risk of some types of the condition as a result.

6.       Keep your blood pressure at a healthy level

High levels of blood pressure can be responsible for an increased risk of developing dementia. This means it’s important to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. You can do this by following a healthy lifestyle and some of the tips mentioned above.

Living with dementia

Dementia can affect every part of a person’s life. It can also directly affect the lives of their families and friends.

Although the symptoms of dementia will gradually get worse over time, it doesn’t mean that a person should stop doing the things and activities that they enjoy. It’s very important to continue your usual activities and try to remain as active as possible and for as long as possible.

Some practical points to help you live with dementia include the following:

  • keep a diary and write down important matters and events you want to remember;
  • put your keys in a safe and obvious place;
  • read a daily newspaper to remind you of the date and the day;
  • have a list of helpful (and important) telephone numbers near your telephone;
  • ensure your bills are on direct debits so you don’t forget to pay them;
  • label drawers and cupboards; and
  • use a pill box organiser to remind you which medication to take and when.

Overall, it’s important to remember that although dementia can impact anyone, there are a range of actions one can take in order to decrease (or delay) the risks of being diagnosed with this condition.

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