Understanding Dementia and How Best to Prevent It

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain. But who does it affect and how best can we prevent it?

The brain is made up of nerve cells (neurones) that communicate with each other by sending messages. Dementia damages the nerve cells in the brain so messages can’t be sent effectively, which prevents the brain from functioning normally.

There are over 200 subtypes and causes of dementia, but the four most common are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.

 

Symptoms

Regardless of which type of dementia is diagnosed and what part of the brain is affected, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way. The symptoms of dementia can include memory problems, reduced cognitive ability (processing information) and poor communication.

Risk Factors

Unfortunately there are some risk factors you cannot change, these include:

  1. Age: People diagnosed with dementia tend to be over 65. Roughly, a persons risk of developing vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years.
  2. Ethnicity: Certain ethinic communities appear to be at higher risk of dementia than others. South Asian or African-Caribbean people seem to develop dementia more often than white Europeans. Specific risk factors associated with these communities such as stroke, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, as well as differences in diet, smoking, exercise and genes, are thought to explain this.
  3. Gender: more women are affected by dementia than men. Worldwide, women with dementia outnumber men two to one.

However, although getting older is undeniably the biggest risk factor for dementia, research suggests up to one in three cases of dementia are preventable. Modifiable risk factors include:

  • high alcohol intake
  • high blood pressure
  • lack of exercise
  • obesity
  • poor physical health
  • smoking

Prevention

Some ways to reduce these risk factors are:

  • Taking advantage of ‘well-person health checks’ at your GP surgery so your blood pressure, weight and cholesterol levels are monitored and well managed
  • Seeking support with your diet and monitoring of weight loss, if your weight has changed over the years, to ensure you’re eating healthily and the weight loss is maintained
  • Drinking less alcohol. At most, you should aim to drink no more than 14 units each week. If you regularly drink much more than this, you’re at risk of alcohol-related brain damage
  • Keeping physically fit throughout your life; for example regular exercise like walking and swimming and group activities like tennis and fitness classes. The NHS website tells you how much physical activity you need to do to stay healthy

 

Book in for your free NHS Health check to learn more about dementia and reduce your risk factors.