You all know by now that I am no spring chicken and I joyfully refer to myself as an Old Chook. I categorise Old Chooks as women over 55. That is, women like me. I want to be a fabulous Old Chook! I want to stay healthy. I want to be productive and fulfilled and I want to make a difference. As I get older, I worry about the health issues that will raise their ugly heads – those diseases or problems where just being old is a risk factor.
Like arthritis and dementia.
Dementia, in particular, has been on my mind lately because I have been noticing a few changes in my cognitive patterns that are a bit scary. For instance when I am typing, and especially when I am trying to type quickly, I will get homonyms mixed up. For instance, I will be thinking “sure thing” but look up at the screen and see that I have typed “shore thing”. Once, I was just a bad typist but now I have begun to select the entirely wrong word. It’s OK, because I realise immediately it’s incorrect when I read it back over. Still, I am interested in the process of why my fingers are not doing what my brain is telling it to.
I thought I would do a bit of study about dementia, its causes and its prevention. I recently completed a MOOC (a massive open online course) run by the University of Tasmania. (You can see details for that course here Wicking Institute )
In VERY simple terms dementia is a progressive disorder that leads to cognitive decline. Loss of memory is only part of the problem. There is currently no cure for dementia. The biggest risk factor is age. If you live long enough you will end up with some form of dementia. There are, however, some modifiable risk factors. That is, if you modify the factor you can change the risk. The trouble is, like with most health issues, you need to start doing the modification WAY before you are going to see the benefits.
You need to live well in your early life to ensure you have a good older life!
Risk factors for dementia
The modifiable risk factors for vascular dementia (a common form of dementia) are:
- Midlife hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Midlife obesity
- Physical activity (lack thereof)
- Alcohol. Although with this one there is a caveat. It seems that low to moderate consumption of alcohol may have a protective effect. Whereas high consumption will have a negative effect.
Looking at this list you might think it’s identical to a list you would see for heart disease – and it is.
Some non-modifiable factors include
- Brain injury
- Genetic predisposition
Some other factors which can affect your risk include things like
- Social isolation. Isolated people are more likely to develop dementia
- Vision and hearing loss will lead to greater risk – possibly because they can increase social isolation.
- Higher education will lead to reduced risk. This is thought to be because of the potential for cognitive reserves. People who have had more education have more in reserve. They have more ways to solve problems. Crudely, if they forget how to do it one way they will work out another.
- Depression – successive bouts of depression over your lifetime will increase your risk.
- Living a rich cognitive lifestyle will decrease your risk.
Don’t you like the sound of that?! A rich cognitive lifestyle!
A rich cognitive lifestyle is one where you are learning new things all the time. The learning should be sustained, complex and preferably include a physical and social aspect as well. Learning a new language, for instance, is a great activity.
I am thinking writing a weekly blog post and traipsing around the countryside taking photos is also contributing to my cognitive lifestyle! I sure hope it’s making my brain rich!
This post, of course, does not constitute medical advice in any way shape or form and you should see your own doctor if you are worried. There are plenty of places to get good information on dementia like here, Dementia Australia and I would recommend the course mentioned above
These images don’t have much to do with dementia per se but are simply here to break up the text!