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Dementia: Reducing The Risk
In Scotland the number of people affected by dementia is 90,000. This is not including indirect effects on families and carers. It has been estimated that one in three people who have died over the age of 65 have had some form of dementia. Also, the incidence of the disease is predicted to double over the next 25 years. Research has not yet identified a cure, although some treatments can alleviate some symptoms and progress of the illness.
Research over the years has shown that lifestyle factors can have a role in developing the disease. One study demonstrated that cognitive activity, using our brain and thinking capacity was more helpful than physical activity in reducing or delaying the effects of the disease.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that taking part in leisure activities once a week reduced the risk of dementia by 7 %. These leisure activities could include reading, playing board games, or dancing. They also found that doing crosswords four times a week reduced your risk by 47%.
Other research has shown that being sociable can stave off dementia. Taking regular exercise may reduce the risk too, as it is thought to make the brain more flexible. There is some evidence that risk can be reduced by quitting smoking (as it leads to high blood pressure) and not drinking too much alcohol. Eating oily fish is also thought to help, as can eating chocolate.
Working for Prevention of Dementia
A partnership of third-sector organisations in Scotland has been developed to promote and build upon this research.
The Dementia Defence Partnership is headed up by ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Scotland. Their manifesto is:
- Take these actions to keep well and live life to the full. Each one of these elements of “Dementia Defence” can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia.
- Develop good habits early. The way you live now affects your later health, so don’t leave it too late. Getting into the right habits in your 40s and 50s is particularly important.
- Eat well. A balanced diet will help you maintain a healthy weight and keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control.
- Fight loneliness and depression. Maintain your social networks and keep in touch with friends and family.
- Exercise every day. Keep physically active, even if it is just going for a short walk.
- Never smoke. Even occasional smoking is harmful.
- Cut down on alcohol. Drink in moderation and stick to the recommended guidelines.
- Enjoy life. Keep learning new skills and ideas. Be busy, active and engaged.
More on the Partnership
The partnership includes Age Scotland, and Alzheimer Scotland among others. The Deputy Chief Executive of Ash states that:' Promoting dementia risk reduction makes sense; it provides one more reason why people should get out and walk more, provide befriending support or sign up for a college class. For the Government and health and social care providers it offers hope of reducing the mounting dementia care bills that are of such concern.'
The partnership plans to do campaigning and publicity work, with organisations and with the general public. This initiative is very welcome, and we can all take some of the simple steps from above. We can do this either professionally to help others in our care, or just personally, to reduce the impact of this increasing public health concern.
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