More than 500,000 Canadians live with dementia, and that number is predicted to double in less than 12 years.
Dementia is an illness that not only affects the patient, but also their loved ones as well. Approximately 1.1 million Canadians are affected by dementia in some way.
Dementia is the term given to a group of symptoms caused by disorders of the brain that are progressive and non-reversible. The most common cause of dementia, and the one that most people are familiar with, is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness caused by build up of plaques and tangles of irregular proteins in brain cells that cause them to degrade and die.
The loss of brain cells leads to the symptoms that most people are familiar with, including memory loss, difficulties with thinking, processing, and language, change with behaviour, and decline in performing everyday activities like banking, shopping, housekeeping, cooking, and driving. Other causes of dementia include vascular dementia, front-temporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, Down syndrome, and other rare causes that cause damage to brain cells.
While more research is needed to understand how to prevent and treat dementia, we do know that there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing the illness, such as health issues like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes; diet, smoking, brain injuries, age, and genetics. Although you can’t control your age or genetics, there are so much that you can do to maintain a healthy brain and reduce your risk for developing dementia.
Some things which you can do include:
- Keep your brain busy with new ideas and activities, like learning a new language or hobby, and doing word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and brain teasers.
- Stay socially connected with friends and family, spend time volunteering, or join social clubs like book clubs, hiking groups, or other hobby groups.
- Take care of existing health issues. Untreated chronic medical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure can increase the risk for strokes and other brain injuries, which can significantly increase the risk for dementia.
- Prevent head injuries like concussions. Repeat concussions can lead to irreversible brain injury and increase the risk for dementia. Make sure to wear helmets when playing sports or doing activities like skiing or bicycling.
- Live a healthy lifestyle by getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet as suggested by Canada’s Food Guide, maintaining a health weight, quit or avoid smoking, and getting enough sleep.
For more information about dementia, visit alzheimer.ca, or speak to your family physician.