elderly hands holding flowers

When it might be dementia

As we age, our brains change, but Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are not an inevitable part of aging. In fact, up to 40% of dementia cases may be prevented or delayed. It helps to understand what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to brain health.

Normal brain aging may mean slower processing speeds and more trouble multitasking, but routine memory, skills, and knowledge are stable and may even improve with age. It’s normal to occasionally forget recent events such as where you put your keys or the name of the person you just met.

People with dementia have symptoms of cognitive decline that interfere with daily life including disruptions in language, memory, attention, recognition, problem solving, and decision-making. Signs to watch for include: not being able to complete tasks without help; trouble naming items or close family members; forgetting the function of items; repeating questions; taking much longer to complete normal tasks; misplacing items often; being unable to retrace steps and getting lost.

Studies show that healthy behaviours, which can prevent some kinds of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, may also reduce your risk for cognitive decline. Although age, genetics, and family history can’t be changed, addressing risk factors may prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Quit smoking. Quitting smoking now may help maintain brain health and can reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses.
  2. Maintain a healthy blood pressure level.
  3. Be physically active. Studies show physical activity can improve thinking, reduce risk of depression and anxiety, and help you sleep better.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight. Healthy weight isn’t about short-term dietary changes. Instead, it’s about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.
  5. Get enough sleep.
  6. Stay engaged.
  7. Manage blood sugar.

 And what to do if a loved one is showing symptoms?

Talk with your loved one about seeing a healthcare provider if they are experiencing symptoms of dementia to get a brain health checkup.

When the timing is right, talk about issues related to safety including driving and carrying identification. Symptoms of dementia include getting lost in familiar places, difficulty judging distance, determining colour or contrast, and reading which can make driving especially difficult.

Help your loved one start gathering important documents such as their advanced healthcare directive or living will, durable power of attorney for healthcare, and financial or estate planning documents.

Schedule a family meeting. When caring for someone with dementia or a related illness, family meetings are important to ensure information is shared, to put care plans in place, and to help divide tasks among family members.

More than half of people with memory loss have not talked to their healthcare provider. Get comfortable with starting a dialogue with your healthcare provider if you observe any changes in memory, or an increase in confusion, or just if you have any questions.

Article submitted by the HPA Health Group