Dementia currently affects around 1.3% of New Zealand’s population, around 70,000 people, by the year 2030 it is expected over 100,000 people, and by 2050 over 170,000. These growing statistics provided by Alzheimer’s NZ are cause for concern among many health professionals.
There is no cure for dementia; therefore taking a preventative approach is often considered the best course of action. What can you do to help reduce the risk of developing dementia? Making a few simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference, see below for information on the types of dementia, how to recognise the symptoms, our top 5 vitamins and minerals for the brain and more.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is the term used to describe a progressive decline in cognitive function most commonly found in the elderly. There are 4 different forms of dementia the most common is Alzheimers Disease, other types are Vascular dementia, Lewy Body Dementia and Frontotemporal dementia.
- Alzheimers. The most commonly recognised form of dementia, Alzheimers results in difficultly with memory, speech, reasoning, recognising things, and often sees changes in emotional reactions and behaviour.
- Vascular Dementia. Resulting from insufficient blood supply to the brain, Vascular dementia is characterised by more subtle changes which can include changes in the ability to pay attention and the slowing of thought processes. As the lack of blood supply progresses, it can result in the reduced capacity in parts of the brain caused by blood clots.
- Lewy Body Dementia. Symptoms for LBD include poor attention span, changes in alertness and sometimes hallucinations. All aspects of thinking including memory retention become more readily affected as the condition progresses.
- Frontotemporal Dementia. This type of dementia is as a result of changes to the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain. Common symptoms include obvious changes in behaviour, personality and/or language used.
How To Recognise Dementia And Where To Get Help
Understanding the different types of dementia mentioned above will help you to recognise what to look out for but it is important to realise the key factor in identifying possible dementia is a noticeable change in a person’s normal behaviour. This can include obvious changes in speech, memory, recognition or personality, increased irritability and intolerance, or changes to pre-established social habits and interaction.
Some common warning signs of dementia might be:
- Forgetting to turn off an element on the stove.
- Missing appointments.
- Uncharacteristic hurtful comments.
- Repeatedly putting things in inappropriate places - keys in the freezer for example.
- Unusual choices in clothing.
- Trouble remembering the words for everyday items.
In New Zealand your first port of call is almost always going to be your GP. Doctors in NZ follow a pre-set “cognitive impairment pathway” which includes a series of steps and tests designed to determine and diagnose dementia, or identify if there is another underlying issue.
Useful Links For Dementia Related Illness
- Dementia NZ
- Neurological Foundation of New Zealand
- NZ Mental Health Foundation
- Ministry of Health
- Alzheimers NZ
Brain Health And Nutrition
Throughout our lives there are many factors that can affect brain health and function, some of these factors are well within our control such as dietary intake and lifestyle and some are not, such as hereditary conditions and sometimes even certain environmental conditions (air quality etc.).
When discussing brain health it is important to think about remaining active both mentally and physically, while also engaging in continuing social interaction. But as with any body related illness, optimisations in dietary intake are a great way to begin your journey to a healthy you!
It is important to note that when taking any vitamin and mineral supplements, improvement or benefits are only going to be experienced if the person is lacking in them. If no deficiency is present supplements are unlikely to provide any noticeable improvement in the body’s performance.
Our Top 5 Vitamins And Minerals For Dementia And The Brain
While studies into the link between brain health and nutrition are ongoing, there are some vitamins and minerals that remain in constant need by the brain in order for it to perform its many many functions throughout the day. Here are our top 5 vitamins and minerals the brain needs for optimal functionality.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to aid in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus found in the body. These three together play an important role in maintaining proper bone structure. Controlled exposure to sunlight is a good way to boost Vitamin D levels. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease according to research from the American Academy of Neurology.
- Omega 3. While technically a fatty acid not a vitamin or mineral, Omega 3 is made up of ALA, EPA and DHA. These fatty acids are vital in brain development and during the aging process. Omega 3 is also thought to reduce inflammation within the body and brain.
- Vitamin E. A good antioxidant, Vitamin E is great for protecting cells from oxidative stress caused by free radicals. As the body and the brain ages it is more susceptible to these oxidative stresses and any foods or supplements high in antioxidants can be a great way to give the body a helping hand.
- Folate. Also known as Vitamin B9, it is thought folate is used by the brain along with B6, B12 and other B vitamins to lower high levels of homocysteine and also reduce inflammation. These are symptoms commonly associated with age-related cognitive decline and brain diseases.
- Zinc. The brain uses zinc for many purposes but most importantly for aiding in long term memory retention – which can be a big problem for dementia suffers. Low levels of zinc have been linked to range of neurological complaints which include Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
5 Ways You Can Help Improve Your Brain Health
It is important to seek medical advice if you feel unwell or suspect you or someone you know may have symptoms of dementia, but there are a few basic things you can do that may help improve not only your brain health but your whole body health.
- Avoid Processed Foods. These include foods containing high amounts of sugar, alcohol, caffeine and inflammatory foods such as Omega 6 fats and dairy products high in saturated fats.
- Increase Omega 3 Intake. Foods containing healthy fats (Omega 3) such as avocados, walnuts, almonds, wild caught salmon and eggs are all good examples.
- Exercise Regularly. Studies have shown regular aerobic exercise may reduce the risk of dementia and the progression of cognitive decline. Exercise results in increased blood flow to the brain and gets the heart pumping. This section also includes exercising the brain – see below for ideas on keeping your brain active.
- Get Some Sleep. Getting a good amount of quality sleep each night has been suggested as playing an important role in maintaining brain health with age.
- Manage Stress Levels. Being in a state of constant stress is taxing on the body, finding ways to relax and be calm is vital for good health. Think yoga, meditation, breathing exercises or some kind of low level exercise or social activity that helps you relax.
How To Improve Memory And Concentration
In the elderly some memory loss symptoms can actually be related to a reduction in the rate at which they learn and store new information. Actively working on engaging these skills and areas of the brain can help make remembering things easier. Here are our top 5 ways to work on improving memory and concentration levels.
- Reduce Stress. When the body is under stress blood flow reduces to areas of the body that are deemed “unnecessary for survival”, you want as much blood getting into the brain as possible.
- Relax. Taking time to relax is far more important than many people realise, it can also help to manage stress levels and aid in concentration.
- Pay Attention. Concentrate on the little things if you want to be able to recall them later, recite them over in your head or use other methods to commit them to memory. Slow down and take the time to give something or someone your full attention.
- Organise. Keeping things organised is a great way to reduce clutter and confusion. Make sure you have designated places for things like keys, wallet, phone etc.
- Write It Down. Yes its cheating a little, but writing things down is a great way to reduce the stress and concern over not being able to remember things when you were supposed to.
Keeping Your Brain Healthy And Active
Just as you would exercise your body at the gym or by taking a walk, exercising your brain is also an important part of keeping your brain healthy. Some things you can do to regularly exercise your brain are:
- Crossword puzzles, brain teasers or Sudoku puzzles.
- Learn a new skill such as playing a musical instrument, or learn a new language.
- Board games such as Bridge, Bingo, Mahjong or cards.
- Volunteer at a local community organisation or get involved in a community garden or group.
- Take alternate routes when driving to familiar places; don’t rely on your GPS navigation.
Taking dietary supplements is best undertaken on the advice of your healthcare professional, supplementation can help treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies - but it can also be detrimental to your health if you are taking too much. Quantities must be closely monitored for each individual and also on an accumulative basis across all supplement products and foods.
Please Note: All information contained in this article is given as general information; this is not intended to provide educated health or medical advice. Always consult your healthcare professional for specific medical reasons and advice on dietary requirements or nutritional supplements.