BY DR LYDIA THURTON
The thought of losing one’s mind is incredibly frightening. For many of us, our identity is in our thoughts. We know ourselves in the context of our friends, family, career, neighbourhood, culture. Dementia and Alzheimer’s’ disease strip all of that away.
Patients who have had a family member afflicted with dementia naturally have a fear that it might happen to them. Forgetting occasional words or where you left your keys is normal. Not all memory loss is worrisome. Some degree of memory loss is considered part of the aging process. Secreting a lot of the stress hormone cortisol can impair new memory formation. Even some medications, like sleeping pills and cholesterol lowering drugs, can impair memory. These causes are all reversible with appropriate treatment.
Dementia is a broad term that refers to chronic memory loss and cognitive impairment that affects daily life. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of dementia patients. Signs of Alzheimer’s include forgetting recent events, forgetting family member names and having family members concerned about your forgetfulness. Vascular dementia is another type. Vascular dementia starts with difficulty planning and organizing tasks and is the result of small micro strokes.
One under recognized sign of impending dementia is depression. Major depressive disorder increases risks of cognitive impairment and can be a warning sign for seniors that they should undergo memory testing. If you think you might be depressed or you feel hopeless and helpless a lot of the time, please seek help. This is a major risk factor for poor brain health as you age.
Inflammation causes dementia. Vascular dementia is essentially the same as cardiovascular disease. Blood vessels get inflamed, bleed and damage the brain. Inflammation is at the core of Alzheimer’s. The body releases damaging chemicals in response to dangerous proteins building up in the brain. This worsens the condition, the mind fails and the body goes with it. Very importantly inflammation is something that we can control through our lifestyle.
The brain is mainly made up primarily of fat. Eating lots of olive, fish, flax, coconut and avocado oil ensures that our brain cells are made up of anti-inflammatory fats. You literally are what you eat.
Nixing your sweet tooth is a great way to protect your brain. Alzheimer’s disease resembles diabetes. Your brain makes small amounts of the hormone insulin to help transport sugar into brain cells. When you eat a lot of sugar, your body produces a lot of insulin and eventually the cells stop listening and you get a back up of sugar in your blood. This process happens in the brain too and it encourages the protein changes found in Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise wards off depression, a risk factor for dementia. And it also improves circulation. Circulation is key for proper brain function. If you don’t exercise for even a few minutes a day you are missing out on a simple way to decrease the risk of basically every chronic disease, including dementias of various types. Keep your brain game strong. Live well!