An eye on dementiaby Berneet Kaur, M.D.
With the loss of legendary Lady Vol basketball coach Pat Summitt earlier this year, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia were all over the news. As you age, what you should know about dementia and how to protect your brain health?
Dementia is common across the world. The World Health Organization reports that 47.5 million people have dementia, and 7.7 million new cases are diagnosed each year.
Misconception & reality: Understanding dementia
- Dementia is a medical condition. Actually, dementia is a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. Of those disorders, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, causing 60 to 70 percent of all dementia. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a person suffers a stroke, is the second most common type of dementia.
- Dementia only impacts memory. Dementia impacts far more than just memory. In fact, in order to be diagnosed with dementia, a person must have at least two mental functions impaired. These mental functions include communication and language, the ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception.
- There’s a test that diagnoses dementia. Unlike with many common diseases, there’s no definitive test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia while a person is living. Instead, doctors currently make diagnoses based on a thorough medical history, a physical examination, lab work, and a review of changes in a person’s day-to-day function, cognitive ability and behavior.
- There’s no way to prevent dementia. It’s true that some risk factors for dementia, such as advanced age and your family’s genes, can’t be changed. But researchers are actively searching for ways that people can help prevent dementia from occurring. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the ways you can help protect your brain health.
Signs and symptoms
Most people forget things every now and then and misplace objects in their home or office. As we age, those memory issues often crop up a little more often, particularly when we’re stressed. But it’s a good idea to seek medical attention if you experience certain symptoms, particularly if you repeatedly experience them.
See a doctor if you or a loved one experience:
- Memory loss that’s noticed by others
- Difficulty with reasoning or problem-solving
- Difficulty with motor functions or coordination
- Personality changes
- Inappropriate, out-of-character behavior
- Agitation or paranoia
- Difficulty handling complex tasks
Amp up your brain health
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells that varies depending on the type of dementia. Researchers have found that some lifestyle habits can help protect your brain. Live a brain-healthy lifestyle by:
- Taking care of your heart. Researchers have found that the habits that protect your brain also protect your heart. So don’t smoke. Maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Achieve and stick to a healthy weight.
- Being physically active. Some studies have found that exercise benefits brain cells by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
- Eating a healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and healthy fats, can help keep your heart and brain healthy. In a more recent study, researchers found that a dietary approach called the MIND diet may help lower your risk of dementia. This diet emphasizes foods that have been shown as good for the brain, starting with those in the Mediterranean diet and adding green leafy vegetables, berries, beans, lean poultry and wine.
- Staying mentally active. Challenge your brain regularly with puzzles and games. Learn new skills or hobbies. Volunteer or participate in social organizations to stay out and active.
If you know a loved one that is exhibiting the symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you should encourage him or her to see a physician. Need a doctor? Find one here.