Psychologist Dr Eddie on how to prevent the onset of dementia

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If you were asked what is needed in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, would you include brain fitness as part of your daily routine?

If you were asked what is needed in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, would you include brain fitness as part of your daily routine?

It is estimated that over 81 million people will have dementia by the 2040.  

Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities that is severe enough to interfere with daily life and is caused by physical changes in the brain. There are many types of dementia but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s gradually erodes a person’s memory, intellectual abilities and personality. In early stages, common symptoms are an inability to learn and remember new information, disorientation, and difficulty remembering names and recent events. In advanced stages, the ability to think, speak, walk or perform basic tasks such as dressing or eating are severely impaired. 

There are many risk factors for dementia such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and testosterone loss. It is more likely in someone who has experienced several psychiatric episodes and in athletes that have sustained multiple concussions. 

Do not be alarmed if you find yourself forgetting where you parked your car or walk into a room wondering what you are there for. The average person misplaces up to nine items a day with mobile phones, keys and paperwork being the most common. Everyday forgetfulness is not a sign of dementia and while it can worsen with age, minor memory lapses are normal for all ages. Our mental ability peaks at the age of 20 and begins to decline from the age of 50 onwards. However, even though an elderly brain slows, it never loses the capacity to learn.

There are ways to prevent the onset of dementia:

Mental Exercise – Research shows that people with a high IQ and high education are less likely to develop dementia. However, if you did not do well in school do not worry, mentally-stimulating activities can also improve your mental ability – hence the ‘use it or lose it’ motto. 

Positive brain health strategies include reading, tv quiz shows, puzzles such as Sudoku or crosswords, board or card games, going to classes or playing musical instruments. Choose activities that you enjoy because forcing yourself to complete a mental task can induce stress which in turn can have negative effects on your brain health.

Physical Exercise - Regular exercise, in particular aerobic fitness like walking, climbing stairs, cycling, dancing, and swimming, has been shown to increase mental ability. Daily chores such as gardening and cleaning are also are beneficial ways of staying active. However, it is important to notify your doctor before you take part in vigorous exercise.

Social interaction - Socialising and interacting with others help keep the mind healthy. Regular contact with family or friends, in person, over the phone or online, has many psychological benefits. Attending a GAA match, volunteering in the community or joining a local club can have a positive impact also.

Healthy diet - A healthy diet can deter the onset of many diseases including dementia. A diet high in green vegetables and oily fish, and low in cholesterol and fat, promotes a healthy mind.

Sleep – Poor sleep patterns are known to affect our mental ability. Setting a regular bedtime, and avoiding eating, drinking and using electronics before going to bed can ensure that you get adequate sleep.

If you or someone you know shows signs of dementia, please see your GP. National Helpline: 1 800 341 341

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