DEMENTIA doesn’t just mean forgetting where you left your keys.
It is a devastating group of diseases – Alzheimer’s being the most common – that robs people of their memory, mobility and personality.
And the older we get, the more likely it is that you or someone you love will get it.
Around 900,000 Britons currently have dementia – including journalist and broadcaster Fiona Phillips, who was recently diagnosed aged 62 – and that number is expected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.*
The risk of dementia increases with age: One in 14 over the age of 65 and one in six over the age of 80 have symptoms that can include memory loss, difficulty speaking and slow movements.**
There is currently no cure, but there are simple things you can do to reduce your risk.
“Up to four in 10 cases of dementia could be prevented with some lifestyle changes, and the sooner we make them, the more the brain benefits,” says Simon Wheeler, senior knowledge officer at the Alzheimer’s Society.
This is how you give your brain the best chance of staying in top shape.
Listen to your ears
According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNIDP), people with midlife hearing loss may be up to five times more likely to develop dementia.
It states that background noise levels are “dangerously high” when you can’t speak to someone six feet away without shouting.
If noise is damaging your ears, it is advisable to leave the area and use earplugs in noisy situations.
Try Alpine’s reusable PartyPlug earplugs (£12) or the discreet Eggz earplugs (£18) – both are discreet and don’t muffle sound.
Also, keep your phone’s volume at 60% of the limit and take a five-minute break every hour when listening to music or podcasts through headphones.
Would you like to train your brain to hear better? The Alzheimer’s Society recommends the EarGym app to guide you through exercises like pitch recognition.
Throw your best moves
It’s no secret that staying active is key to maintaining a healthy body and mind, but you can also ditch the treadmill and dance instead!
“Research suggests that three aspects of dancing may reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment, which can lead to dementia,” says Dr. Peter Lovatt, psychologist and author of The Dance Cure.
“There is the aspect of physical activity that has been shown to reduce age-related deterioration in the memory part of the brain.
“Learning to move and responding to changing rhythms also engages areas of the brain responsible for thinking and problem-solving, leading to increased brain activation.”
“Moreover, social interaction can protect against dementia.”
Find a class through Dance Near You or use the DanceFitMe app to show off your best Beyoncé impersonation at home.
Experts are still trying to figure out if poor sleep is a cause or a symptom of dementia — or both.
However, we do know that better sleep improves brain function.
“Sleep is necessary for brain detoxification and the organization of memory and other cognitive functions,” says sleep expert Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, author of Tired But Wired: How To Overcome Your Sleep Problems.
Sleep apnea — when breathing stops and starts again while you’re counting — reduces the amount of oxygen reaching your brain and poses another risk of early cognitive decline.
Talk to your GP if you’re concerned you have it.
Top tips for better sleep
dr Nerina Ramlakhan has five non-negotiable points for better, deeper sleep:
1 Don’t skip breakfast. Eat within the first 30 minutes of waking up to stabilize blood sugar levels. This improves your ability to produce the hormone melatonin, which you later need for sleep.
2 Avoid caffeine – think coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and green tea – after 4pm.
3 Stay well hydrated. Set reminder alarms throughout the day as needed.
4 Go to bed early—between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m.—three or four nights a week, even if you’re just resting first.
5 Set healthy limits on technology – no electronics in the bedroom.
Increasing research suggests that air pollution may increase the risk of dementia.
“We are concerned about the impact of air pollution as government action is needed to address it,” says Dr. Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK.
“Walking, cycling or using public transportation will help improve air quality in your community, but you can also make cleaner air choices at home,” adds Larissa Lockwood, director of clean air at Global Action Plan.
“When cooking or cleaning, turn on exhaust fans and avoid using wood stoves or fireplaces.”
Visit the Clean Air Hub website for more tips.
Check the air quality in your home with the Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor (£69.99). An air purifier can also be helpful.
Take a mindful walk
Getting outside is one of the easiest things you can do to support your body and brain.
“Walking improves cognitive well-being by increasing blood flow and promoting the growth of neurons in the brain, which reduces the risk of developing dementia by about 30%,” says Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, Senior Medical Advisor at the AllTrails app.
“Incorporating regular walking into your daily routine can reduce the buildup of harmful proteins in the brain that are strongly linked to the development of dementia.”
Mix up your walks, from group hikes with the likes of Acai’s Outdoorsing Club to solo walks accompanied by the Headspace app.
Also consider micro-hikes. For example, the next time you get up to make tea, take a longer route and stroll around the garden while the kettle boils, or leave your phone on the other side of the house so you have to walk over to to check it .
- GET TESTED: Assess your brain health by completing a 10-minute Alzheimer’s Research UK Think Brain Health Check-In at Alzheimersresearchuk.org.
Questions to ask loved ones with early signs of Alzheimer’s
Witnessing someone you love develop dementia can be incredibly difficult, so don’t leave things unspoken…
According to a study by care home provider Kyn, 66% of Britons regret not having had intense and meaningful conversations with elderly relatives.
So ask a loved one questions like these:
- From all you’ve learned, what’s the best advice you can share?
- Can you share some of your earliest memories e.g. B. Where you live, your childhood, your school life and your hobbies?
- What do you think would surprise people the most if they found out about you?
- What was your favorite decade to live in?
- Who were your role models and sources of inspiration?
- What was the biggest challenge you faced and what did you learn from it?
- What do you think was your greatest achievement?
- How would you like people to remember you and why is that?