AS part of World Alzheimer Month this September, The Echo, in partnership with the HSE’s Dementia: Understand Together campaign, has been running a series of articles all this week on aspects of life with dementia.
In this final article, I will focus on the future and the steps that we can all take to reduce our risk of developing the disease....
There are more than 400 different types of dementia, the most common of which are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, confusion with time or place, difficulty communicating, changes in behaviour and issues with problem- solving.
Each year more than 11,000 people develop dementia in Ireland. The latest figures compiled by the Health Service Executive have revealed that there is an estimated 7,509 people living with dementia in County Cork.
In fact, it’s thought that there are more than 64,000 people currently living with dementia in Ireland.
This figure is set to more than double to over 150,000 by 2045, principally due to people living for longer.
These figures are troubling, but the good news is that there are 12 risk factors associated with dementia that, if addressed, could prevent or delay up to 40 per cent of dementias.
The 2017 Lancet Commission identified nine risk factors for dementia. These were hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, lower levels of education in early life and social contact in later life.
Three more were added in 2020, reflecting more recent evidence. These are excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury and air pollution.
Many of these risk factors overlap with known risks for heart disease and stroke, like hypertension and diabetes. Some also increase the risk of cancer, such as smoking. Thus, reducing these risks has wide health benefits. Some risks are more specific to dementia, like hearing loss and brain trauma, but still very worthwhile as part of an overall approach to reducing individual risk.
Twelve Steps Behaviour change isn’t easy, but we can reduce our chances of developing dementia. It is never too early or too late to take action.
1. Under pressure: Healthy adults above 40 years of age should have their blood pressure (BP) checked annually to see if it is within the healthy range. There are many ways to decrease blood pressure such as through exercise, losing weight, reducing salt intake, limiting alcohol and, of course, by taking medication if prescribed.
2. Listen up: Reduce hearing loss by protecting ears from excessive noise exposure. If experiencing hearing problems, you should get your hearing tested. It’s also important to wear a hearing aid if prescribed one.
3. Breathe carefully: Reduce exposure to air pollution and to second-hand tobacco smoke.
4. Use your head: Prevent head injury, including concussion, which can occur in certain sports, or due to falls. In addition to national policies for safe sports, as individuals we can take precautions such as always wearing the correct protective headwear for sports, cycling, work, etc.
5. Drink in moderation: If you drink alcohol, stay within the low-risk weekly guidelines, i.e. less than 17 standard drinks for men or 11 standard drinks for women. For more information on low-risk drinking guidelines, visit www.askaboutalcohol.ie, or call the HSE Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459.
6. Up in smoke: Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of developing dementia as well as your risk of developing cancers and heart disease. Stop smoking for 28 days and you’re five times more likely to stop for good. For more information, visit www.quit.ie or call the QUITline on 1800 201 203.
7. Adopt a healthy weight: Achieving or maintaining a healthy weight during your lifetime, but particularly in mid-life, is also important – being more active and following a healthy diet can help this.
8. Be a good sport: Physical activity is very important for brain health. Sustained exercise in mid-life, and possibly in later life, protects from dementia, perhaps through reducing cardiovascular risk. Every adult should aim to include 150 minutes of physical activity, such as brisk walking, in their week.
9. Eat well: Eating a wide variety of nourishing foods provides the energy and nutrients you need to keep your brain healthy. A balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, and fish, and that is low in salt and sugar, is a good starting point.
10. Mind your mind: Depression might be a risk for dementia, although dementia itself can also cause depression. Visit www.yourmentalhealth.ie for ways to look after your mental health.
11. Early to bed: Addressing other possible risk factors, like sleep, through lifestyle interventions, will improve general health and may reduce your risk.
12. Brain box: Keep your brain active. Do a crossword or puzzle. Remember your shopping list instead of writing it down. Be curious and take an interest in people. Learn something new or take up a hobby.
The Dementia: Understand Together campaign is led by the HSE in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Age Friendly Ireland. For information on steps we can all take to reduce our risk of dementia, and how to become a dementia champion in your community, visit www.understandtogether.ie. Freefone the The Alzheimer Society of Ireland helpline on 1800 341 341 (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm).
You can catch up on all our four day series to mark World Alzheimer Month, on the story links below.