Dementia and Brain Health

What’s the leading killer of women in Scotland and what can you do about it?

A quick review of The National Records of Scotland shows that Dementia & Alzheimer Disease is the leading cause of female deaths in Scotland accounting for 14.4% of all deaths in 20181. What’s frightening is although causes such as heart disease appear to be on the decrease, there has been an acceleration of dementia related deaths; increasing from approx. 5% in 2001 to the over 14% seen in 2018. 

It’s time for some serious attention to help arrest these terrible statistics. The good news is that there have been some tremendous advances in brain science understanding over the last number of years. We’re beginning to understand more about concepts like neuroplasticity – how the brain can grow new brain cells (called neurons) & how these neurons wire & rewire themselves to help us learn new skills. We’re also beginning to learn that the seeds of dementia related illnesses occur earlier some 20 years before they manifest into a full-blown diagnosis.

We’re also learning that small lifestyle interventions can make a big difference to how we feel and even help keep our noggins working as well as they can.

As we age our brains change and our mental function changes also. Although mental decline is common & is a feared consequence of ageing, mental decline should not inevitable. 

Here are 10 suggestions2 for you to help maintain brain function.

1. Read more, paint more or take up some crafts.

Over the years scientists have found that many mentally stimulating activities can stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, (neuroplasticity). It’s been suggested that this helps build up a reserve of brain cells.

2. Movement – the more the better.

Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Animals who exercise regularly increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in aging animals. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart.

3. Look at your diet

Good nutrition can help your mind as well as your body. It’s been suggested that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils (olive oil) and plant sources of proteins are good for your overall health.

4. Look to improve your blood pressure

Keep your blood pressure in ‘the normal range’. Exercising, reducing alcohol and managing stress can help with this. If you don’t know your blood pressure check it using home measuring devices, equipment in some gyms or with your practice nurse

5. Improve your blood sugar

It’s been shown that diabetes is an important risk factor for dementia. You can help prevent diabetes by eating right, exercising regularly, and staying lean. 

6. Don’t smoke

7. Everything in moderation – even alcohol.

Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to 14 units a week

8. Manage your emotions.

People who are anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted tend to score poorly on cognitive function tests which look at thinking and memory. Poor scores don’t necessarily predict an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age, but restful & restorative sleep certainly helps with your day to day emotional state.

9. Look after your noggin.

Moderate to severe head injuries, even without diagnosed concussions, increase the risk of cognitive impairment. Look after your head, it’s precious. 

10. We’re all social animals for a reason

Strong social ties have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, as well as lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy. If you can’t get out to see friends or family, do pick up the phone or go old school and write them a letter. 

Dr Clara Russell 

Source:

1: The National Records of Scotland 2018

2: Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School 29th Jan 2020

Disclaimer:Although well researched, if concerned, no content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor.