Can dementia be prevented? . . . commemorating Dementia Action Week 2023
Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse-Mental Wellness
As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
Dementia is a condition usually seen in older people characterised by deteriorating memory, difficulties thinking clearly, reasoning soundly and problem solving as well as personality and behaviour changes.
The condition is not a normal part of aging and it can be prevented in many people and can be managed in those who develop it.
Let us reflect on how we can prevent dementia; identify those affected early and improve their quality of life.
What puts us at risk of developing dementia?
Common risk factors for dementia include:
While dementia can occur in younger people, the risk of the condition increases after the age of 65 and a third of people over 85 years will have some form of dementia.
Genetics and family history
A family history of degenerating brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s disease can increase one’s risk of developing dementia.
Smoking tobacco damages blood vessels and can cause a vascular form of dementia that occurs due to brain blood vessel damage.
Excessive alcohol use
Alcohol is a neurotoxin and excessive use can damage brain cells.
Physical health challenges such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.
These conditions worsen degenerative brain conditions and damage blood vessels increasing the risk of developing vascular dementia.
Poor physical activity
A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of becoming overweight and obese which in turn increases the risk of hypertension and diabetes.
Multiple previous bouts of depression can increase the risk of developing the condition.
Loneliness and social isolation
Poor social connection and social support has been found to increase the risk of developing dementia and of deteriorating at a faster pace.
ABCD warning signs of dementia
A for Activities of daily living
Dementia causes difficulties in performing everyday activities like self-care, household chores, keeping to a schedule and keeping down a job due to the challenges in thinking clearly, remembering, reasoning soundly and problem solving.
B for Behaviour and personality changes
Someone with dementia may start to have erratic, unpredictable mood swings. Their personality may change; they may become uncharacteristically irritable or annoyed easily. They may also become unusually reckless and disinhibited.
C for Cognitive decline
Dementia causes challenges with memory that gradually worsens over time. This includes challenges remembering where one has put things like keys or important documents, remembering names of common objects, finding the right words to say during a conversation and eventually forgetting names and identities of even very close family and friends.
D for Disorientation
Dementia can cause one to get disoriented and lost even in familiar settings and this often leads to older people with dementia wandering away from home and getting lost.
How can I reduce my risk of developing dementia?
Remain physically active as you grow older: to reduce risk of hypertension; diabetes and high cholesterol. Avoid smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
Remain mentally active: higher levels of education have been found to delay the onset of dementia, continuing to learn and train one’s brain to problem solve protects the brain. Continuing to work productively for as long as possible keeps the mind active and protects from dementia.
Continue to have a sense of purpose and meaning for your life: It is important to continue to have a vision for our life and to set goals for ourselves to help us to have a sense of purpose for our lives. The Japanese, who have the highest number of people over a 100 years old worldwide, encourage older people to remain active and continue to live in their purpose or ‘Ikigai’ for as long as possible. This has been studied as one of the possible clues to their longevity.
Maintain strong relationships to prevent social isolation.
Seek help early for any memory problems, mental health or physical health problems: There are treatments for dementia that can work in the early stages of the condition.
If you or someone that you know may be struggling with memory problems or dementia, please contact your nearest healthcare provider and get help.
λ This is an Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist. Feedback: Whatsapp+263714987729) (www.ahfoz.org ; [email protected])