How to keep dementia at bay

Julianne Moore is thrilled to be able to shine a light on Alzheimer’s.

Julianne Moore hit a career best with her Oscar-winning role in Still Alice.

However, this movie wasn’t just a showcase for her acting skills; it was also an opportunity to make audiences aware of the toll dementia is taking on an increasing number of people. In the film, Julianne plays a university professor who discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“I’m thrilled we were able to shine a light on Alzheimer’s,” she said in her Oscar acceptance speech.

Dementia is on the rise in the general population. It’s an umbrella term which describes a range of conditions that cause damage to the brain. This damage affects memory, thinking, language and our ability to perform everyday tasks.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for more than 50% of all cases. Other common types include vascular dementia and mixed dementia.

Here in Ireland, it is estimated that 42,000 people have dementia, a number is expected to increase to between 65,000 and 140,000 over the next 30 years.

The prognosis for those diagnosed with dementia is not hopeful. Dementia is ultimately terminal and living with it is difficult for both the sufferer and their loved ones.

However, there are steps people can take to make the best of their prognosis. A new book called Dementia: The One-Stop Guide by Professor June Andrews, director of the Dementia Development Centre at the University of Stirling in Scotland, outlines exactly what these are.

“People with dementia can go downhill fast or they can stay well for as long as possible,” she says. “This book gives the information you need if you’re seriously attempting to stay as well as possible for as long as possible.”

Dr Andrews outlines many lifestyle changes that can help to keep symptoms at bay. One of the most important is exercise, which appears to protect the brain. The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland recommends that older people, sufferers included, exercise for 30 minutes three to five times a week.

This can include anything from walking to swimming, dancing, gardening or housework. Mental stimulation is vital too. Push your brain with crosswords and puzzles. Take up new hobbies such as painting or woodwork. Master new skills such as learning a language or playing an instrument. Other worthwhile approaches include not smoking, drinking in moderation, eating well, getting good quality sleep and socialising.

Stay well with dementia:

1. Exercise.

2. Hydrate – people who are dehydrated get confused.

3. Socialise – it makes a difference so make phone calls or get a pet.

4. Don’t get drunk – it destroys brain cells.

5. One glass of red wine or champagne a day is said to be beneficial.

6. Stop smoking.

7. Make changes in your home to increase light and avoid falls.

8. Eat well and include fish and fresh vegetables in your diet.

9. Sleep well.

10. Don’t worry – stress only makes dementia worse.

Dementia: The One-Stop Guide by Professor June Andrews is published by Profile.

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