June is Alzheimers and Brain Awareness month, worldwide, 50 million people are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and due to the healthcare system globally being over stretched and under funded, coupled with the decline of suffers taking years and sometimes decades, most of the primary care is done by family. 

So what is the difference between Alzheimers and Dementia?

There are many forms of dementia, Alzheimers being one of them. The U.K Alzheimers Society explains; ‘A person with dementia will have cognitive symptoms (to do with thinking or memory). They will often have problems with some of the following:

  • day-to-day memory – for example, difficulty recalling events that happened recently,
  • concentrating, planning or organising – for example, difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (such as cooking a meal),
  • language – for example, difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something,
  • visuospatial skills – for example, problems judging distances (such as on stairs) and seeing objects in three dimensions,
  • orientation – for example, losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are.

A person with dementia will also often have changes in their mood. For example, they may become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. With some types of dementia, the person may see things that are not really there (visual hallucinations) or strongly believe things that are not true (delusions).

Is it preventable?
There are many studies still being conducted and much more research needs to be done, but there are some very clear indications that diet and exercise (so lifestyle choices) play a huge part in the on-set and acceleration of the brain degeneration caused by the disease.  

Refining our understanding of the causes:

  • Alzheimer’s disease – This is the most common cause of dementia. In Alzheimer’s disease, an abnormal protein surrounds brain cells and another protein damages their internal structure. In time, chemical connections between brain cells are lost and cells begin to die. Problems with day-to-day memory are often the first thing to be noticed, but other symptoms may include difficulties finding the right words, solving problems, making decisions, or perceiving things in three dimensions.
  • Vascular dementia – If the oxygen supply to the brain is reduced because of narrowing or blockage of blood vessels, some brain cells become damaged or die. This is what happens in vascular dementia. The symptoms can occur suddenly, following one large stroke. Or they can develop over time, because of a series of small strokes. Vascular dementia can also be caused by disease affecting the small blood vessels deep in the brain, known as subcortical vascular dementia. The symptoms of vascular dementia vary and may overlap with those of Alzheimer’s disease. Many people have difficulties with problem-solving or planning, thinking quickly and concentrating. They may also have short periods when they get very confused.

Factors such as high blood pressure, lack of physical exercise and smoking – all of which lead to narrowing of the arteries – increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. There is evidence that a healthy lifestyle, especially in mid-life, can help reduce the risk of dementia. Regular physical exercise (for example, cycling, swimming, brisk walking), maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and drinking alcohol only in moderation, if at all, are linked to a reduced risk of dementia.A healthy balanced diet also helps to reduce a person’s risk. A balanced diet is one which is low in saturated fat, does not have too much salt, sugar or red meat, and includes plenty of fish, starchy foods, and fruit and vegetables. All these healthy lifestyle choices will also reduce the risk of other serious conditions such as stroke, heart disease and cancer.A person who is already living with conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure or high cholesterol should follow professional advice to keep their condition under control. Getting depression treated early is also important.

What about Yoga and Meditation?

So, getting oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and co-ordinating the body to stimulate cell nourishment and create new neural pathways is a key. There have been some very interesting finding in recent years around the benefits of Yoga and  Meditation for both patient and caregiver. As stated on “the Mind Institute’ website (https://themindedinstitute.com/clarity-within-haze-benefits-yoga-meditation-alzheimers-dementias/)
“Whilst there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, research suggests that yoga and meditation may play a role in prevention and improve symptoms and quality of life.Yoga and meditation engage different parts of the brain based on the various components of the practice, which commonly includes pranayama, asana, chanting, and different forms of concentration. Each of these facets can help the brain to form new connections through the stimulation of neuro-plasticity. Yoga has also been found to reduce stress related inflammation in the body and central nervous system, hormone dis-regulation, sympathetic nervous system over-arousal and compromised quality of life. Meditation has also been shown to improve memory and reduce cognitive decline; adults with mild cognitive impairment who practiced mindfulness, for example, have demonstrated less atrophy in the hippocampus than those who did not meditate. It also allows for the caregivers to have a chance to ‘let go’ and tend to their own needs for a time, which is essential for their mental health and wellbeing. 

To conclude, dementia is fast becoming one of the biggest global health care issues of the 21st century, with no cure, steps in prevention are critically important. Taking responsibility for the quality of the food, exercise and lifestyle choices we all make will diminish chances of developing dementia. Many people think it’s ‘an old persons disease’, sadly this is not true, with early onset cases rising considerably, men and women as young as 45 are seeing the first signs. By establishing a consistent exercise and health routine  and encouraging our family and friends to do the same, we can all be part of the move to prevent brain health decline and enjoy time with our loved ones longer. 

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