Dementia: Facts, Prevention and Treatment
Dementia is a word that describes a state where brain function is sufficiently compromised that it interferes with normal functioning.
Should you be concerned about your cognitive health?
Consider these facts:
- Dementia affects between five and eight percent of adults over the age of 60. As the average age of the population rises, that could add up to an astounding 150 million people with dementia worldwide by 2050.
- Dementia is more complex than most people realize. Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia at 60-80 percent of cases, many other diseases can play a role.
- Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) happens when someone experiences enough impairment to be noticeable, but not enough for a dementia diagnosis. People with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?
- Memory problems, especially short-term memory, relying more and more on memory aids like notes or electronic reminders
- Confusion related to time, place, and events
- Forgetfulness, particularly for things that would have been easily remembered
- Personality or behaviour changes, this may include irritability, anger, irrational, illogical or even lewd behaviour
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Loss of ability to perform activities of daily living, such as writing, speaking, dressing, bathing, eating, and toileting
- Poor judgment
- Difficulty performing tasks that require multiple steps or organization
What causes dementia?
The most frequent cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. This is a condition where amyloid protein deposits in areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and other cognitive functions. The remaining causes include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems and medication side effects.
What are the different forms of dementia?
Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are the two main forms of dementia. Lewy body disease is a third and the fourth is frontotemporal dementia.
What are the stages of dementia?
Dementia can be categorized into 3 stages or 7 stages. The 3 stage model recognizes mild, moderate and severe impairment. The 7 stage model is broken down into no impairment, mild decline, continued mild decline, moderate decline, moderately severe, severe and very severe decline.
Medicines that cause dementia
A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2018 found that the following types of drugs are associated with an increased risk for dementia:
- amitriptyline, paroxetine, and bupropion (most commonly taken for depression)
- oxybutynin and tolterodine (taken for an overactive bladder)
- diphenhydramine (taken for allergies)
Association doesn’t mean causation, so we cannot conclude that the drugs above cause dementia. It may be that the conditions in the body that create allergies, overactive bladder and depression also cause dementia. A common symptom in all of these conditions is inflammation. Addressing inflammation in the body can help numerous conditions and also improve brain health. I would recommend addressing the root of each of these problems to reduce the need for the medications.
Is dementia reversible?
Dementia can be reversible in certain cases. Dementia may be brought on by thyroid disease, hormone imbalance, nutrient deficiencies, medications, infectious disease, autoimmune disease like lupus or sleep apnea. We can help address the cause of these to reverse or slow the progression of dementia.
Alzheimer’s vs dementia
Alzheimer’s is a specific form of dementia that is caused by the deposition of amyloid protein in areas of the brain that are needed for memory and cognitive function. Alzheimer’s is the cause of 60-80% of all dementia. The other possible causes of dementia include vascular problems like stroke, brain injury and reversible causes mentioned above.
Should you be concerned about your brain health?
Everyone experiences some moments of “brain fog” from time to time. It’s perfectly normal to forget where you put your keys occasionally or struggle to remember a name. As we age, these little moments of forgetfulness become more worrying. In fact, the damage from Alzheimer’s can start up to 10 years before symptoms become troublesome. Stress, fatigue, and nutritional deficiencies can all contribute to cognitive issues, even without Alzheimer’s.
How can dementia be treated or prevented?
The good news is that foggy thinking and poor memory don’t have to be a normal part of aging. Cognitive decline is not inevitable. And the steps to protecting our brain health can also help the rest of our bodies. This provides further evidence that everything is connected when it comes to our optimum health!
So what can you do to maintain peak mental fitness? Check out these tips:
- Plant-based diet
- Keep learning
- Hormone balance
Get enough sleep
A great deal of research supports a link between brain health and adequate sleep. Scientists think the relationship may work both ways: not getting enough sleep can lead to cognitive decline, but cognitive decline can also cause sleep problems. Either way, the best approach is to be proactive. For example, avoid substances like caffeine or alcohol before bed. Practice good sleep hygiene by sleeping in a cool, quiet room and pay attention to when the body wants to sleep. Your circadian rhythm is your natural sleep cycle, which is ideally around 10-10:30 pm. Fighting it and staying up later sends an adrenaline rush to your body to keep it awake. Talk to a healthcare provider if sleep issues interfere with daily living. You may also find that following the other tips on this list help with sleep – did I mention that it’s all connected?
Focus on a plant-based diet with plenty of healthy fats
Good nutrition fuels our brain. Processed, low-nutrient foods can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress. The result can be cognitive and mood issues. Up to 95
Some important nutrients for brain health include:
- Vitamin K: Several studies suggest Vitamin K helps prevent cognitive decline. To boost Vitamin K intake, focus on leafy greens, such as spinach or kale or eat natto.
- Omega 3’s: This fatty acid has been shown to lower levels of
beta-amyloids. These are the building blocks of the amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Look for fatty fish and plant-based sources like flax seeds or avocados.
- Flavonoids: These phytonutrients are found in many fruits and vegetables. They are particularly found in brightly coloured, flavourful foods like strawberries and blueberries. Flavonoids have been found to play a role in preventing memory decline.
Move to keep your brain active
Exercise is a must when it comes to brain health. Not only can cardio activities like swimming and walking ease stress, but physical activity can also increase the size of the hippocampus. That’s the part of our brain responsible for verbal memory, among other important functions. Exercise also helps your cardiovascular system stay healthy to prevent problems like vascular dementia.
Which exercise is best? The best activity is always the one that you enjoy and that you’re most likely to do. But experts say to strive for 75 minutes of intense activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. As an added bonus, exercise can help you sleep!
You’re never too old to learn something new. In fact, acquiring new knowledge can help keep your brain young. One study found that adults who learned a “complex skill” such as quilting or basic coding had improved memory function after only three months. And knowing a second language (even if you learn it late in life) can help slow memory loss. There’s a great app called Duolingo that makes learning a new language fun. You can even learn Klingon if that’s what you’re into. As we wrote in our biohacking post, learning to play an instrument helps with several brain functions.
You’ve probably noticed that when you’re stressed, your thought process isn’t as clear as it is when you’re relaxed. Scientists confirm that even short-term stress can affect the hippocampus. It’s important to note that most studies refer to a relationship between perceived stress and memory. We all have negative events in our lives and some of these can’t be avoided. But we can change how we react to them and how we deal with daily stress. It’s possible to reframe the stress of daily life and change how we perceive it. Yoga, meditation, tai chi, and psychotherapy are all effective ways to reduce our feelings of stress. With brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, stressful events can trigger a sharp decline in brain function.
Proper brain function is also linked to hormonal balance. Having an imbalance of your cortisol levels, estrogen, melatonin, pregnenolone, testosterone or thyroid can all contribute to memory loss, confusion, and issues concentrating. Our ND’s provide extensive testing and treatment for these imbalances and can help get your brain working at peak function again.
Herbs and other natural supplements can help prevent and treat dementia problems. Research supports the use of Bacopa, Curcumin and Schisandra to help with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Our naturopathic doctors can provide guidance regarding the appropriateness of these herbs and the proper products and dosages.
It’s important to remember that there isn’t necessarily a “magic bullet” solution to protect your brain function. As with all elements of well-being, maximum health is the result of a consistent, holistic approach. By taking conscious steps to protect your brain health, you can minimize memory loss.
Please visit the office if you have questions about your brain health! And if you’ve noticed any symptoms that worry you, it’s important to check them out right away. Call us at 416-481-0222 or book an appointment online at https://forcesofnature.janeapp.com.
Authored by Dr Pamela Frank, BSc, ND