By Pamela Mills MA, CTRS, CADDCT
Dementia Specialist / Educator / Care Manager
Every brain is at risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.
These cognitive changes are linked to a decline in the brain that over time kills nerve cells and tissue, affecting a person’s ability to accurately understand and interact with the world around them, recall information, think, and plan. As symptoms advance, the brain cells lose all capacity to function normally leading to physical death.
Depending on the type of dementia (and there could be over 99 varieties), risk increases for people age 65 and over. Typically, individuals can lose their ability to identify and use words, recognize, or interact with family and friends as well as care for themselves. For Vascular dementia, an individual’s decline will be outside of the typical average onset of 65, with some people displaying symptoms younger while many more in their 80’s. Vascular dementia is frequently linked to a previous history of cardiovascular illness or stroke. Other risk factors include a current or a family history of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which progresses in stages of decline over 10 to 20 or more years, affecting a person cognitively and physically. Researchers are unclear about all the contributing health problems and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease; however, a history of type 2 diabetes, a more sedentary lifestyle, and a previous diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment are significant risk factors.
Experiencing the disorder personally or through the eyes of a loved one is significantly challenging, both emotionally and interpersonally. Both caregivers, and care receivers, move through struggles that can upend each person’s lifestyle, wellbeing, financial and overall resources. This journey is not easy for anyone.
Show support through increased awareness.
One of the best ways to support a person living with dementia and their loved ones is to become more knowledgeable about the challenges associated with the disorders. Dementia Friends USA is a global movement that is changing the way people think, act, and talk about dementia. By helping everyone in a community understand what dementia is and how it affects people, each of us can make a difference for people touched by dementia.
In June, the Alzheimer’s Association recognizes Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month as an opportunity to increase awareness and to address the needs of people living with dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association and its experts have published a document, 10 Ways to Love Your Brain – tips that may help reduce the risk of developing dementia:
- Break a sweat. Engage in regular physical activity that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center, or online. Take time to challenge your brain.
- Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases the risk of cognitive decline and cardiovascular disease overall. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk and lead to an overall healthier lifestyle.
- Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke – obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes – negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
- Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
- Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Catch some ZZZ’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
- Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with an increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
- Buddy up. Social activities may support cognitive function. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community – consider volunteering or sharing activities with friends and family.
- Stump yourself. Challenge your brain. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Increased cognitive stimulation has both short and long-term benefits for your brain.
Evidence for lessening the impact of dementia on a person’s life is strongest when a person has a history of engaging in an overall healthy lifestyle regarding stress levels, sleep, and nutrition, social activities as well as having formal education and the avoidance of head injury.
Choose to make a statement of your support during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month by doing the following:
- Take the Purple Pledge at alz.org/pledge
- Learn and share the above 10 Ways to Love Your Brain
- Learn how to be sensitive and support people living with dementia in your local community by becoming a Dementia Friend at Dementia Friends USA
- Plan a local sunrise to sunset event for The Longest Day. The Longest Day is the day with the most light – the summer solstice. On June 20, people from across the world will fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through a fundraising activity of your choice. Join them in wearing purple, and share photos of yourself, family, friends, and co-workers wearing purple via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc. with the hashtags #ENDALZ and #GoPurple
While people can live well with dementia, we all can learn more about ways we each can be sensitive to and support people living with dementia and practice lifestyle changes that may help reduce our own risk of cognitive decline. Start today!
If you or someone you care about needs additional support to help cope, The Option Group is here to help. Please contact our professional care management team for assistance.
About The Option Group: Founded in 2010, The Option Group’s compassionate team of experienced Certified Life Care Managers serves families, their loved ones, medical professionals, and professional family advisors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The firm understands the challenges of caring for an individual who needs assistance due to aging, dementia, disability, or serious illness. Their skilled providers possess over 100 years of combined experience navigating the healthcare maze and accessing hundreds of quality resources. The Option Group helps families spend quality time with their loved ones, providing clear choices that lead to better care. For more information, visit www.theoptiongoup.net or call 410-667-0266 (MD) or 717-287-9900 / 610-885-8899 (PA) / or 302-858-6449 (DE).