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Dementia in Canada and Prevention Tips

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Dementia has many dimensions and impacts everyone in different ways. Here are some tips to help keep your brain healthy.

When our brain can no longer fight off the various risks to its health, dementia settles in. Alzheimers is a form of dementia and probably the one Canadians are most familiar with. The pandemic hasn’t helped much either with limited access to Long-Term Care facilities and so much time in lockdowns. 

So what exactly is dementia? It’s not just one disease, it is a series of symptoms that affect our brain function over time. Usually it is characterized by declines in cognitive abilities such as planning; judgement; basic math skills; awareness of our person, place and time.  Over time dementia can affect our language functions, mood and behaviour.

Causes are thought to be caused by neurodegenerative diseases which affect nerve cells in our brain, vascular diseases that affect our blood vessels and arteries and injuries. There are different types of dementia from Lewy body, frontotemporal and Alheimers to a mix of conditions. Some research indicates there may be links to infectious diseases as well like Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

In an early 2020 study of 4,200 Canadians by the Public Health Agency of Canada, they found that 83% felt dementia is having a moderate to significant impact in Canada. About half of respondents worry about developing dementia themselves and 64% worry that someone close to them will develop dementia. As of 2017 more than 432,000 Canadians aged 65 or older, or 6.9%, were living with dementia and two-thirds of them are women. PHAC estimates that the annual cost to Canadians will reach $16.6 Billion by 2031.

Risk factors for Dementia

There are a number of risk factors when it comes to dementia. Understanding them can help you formulate a strategy for reducing these risks. Known factors include;

  • Physical inactivity
  • Harmful or abusive alcohol use
  • Smoking later in life
  • Sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea
  • Poor diet such as too much sugar
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Social isolation
  • Lower levels of early life education

Preventative Measures for Dementia

While there’s no guarantee that taking measures to prevent dementia will work, they certainly can’t hurt. These steps will also help give you a longer, happier life anyway.

  • Physical activity. You don’t have to run marathons or try and bench press 500 Lbs, but daily walks, some jogging, yoga. Getting cardio means pumping blood through those veins and strengthening your heart muscle and that’s an important muscle!
  • Good diet. Stop those processed foods for one! They’re usually high in sugar and salts among other things like damaging nitrates. Avoid trans-fats and get into the Omega oils! Lot’s of fresh vegetables and stop eating meats everyday. A more plant-based diet can work wonders for brain and gut health.
  • Social time. It’s harder during a pandemic of course, but find ways to get social activities in your life. Spending time with with friends and family has huge cognitive benefits.
  • Smoking. Just stop. Easier said than done sometimes, but not only your brain, but your heart will thank-you. You’ll also find you have more time to do other things.
  • Brain exercise. Sudoku, crosswords, puzzle building, reading (especially non-fiction books and magazines), brain teasers. Keep the neurons firing!

There are some programs in different parts of Canada that can help with these actions as well. 

If you think you or someone you know may have dementia, visit your doctor or help a family member or friend seek medical help.

You might also enjoy this article on tips to reduce worrying.

Author: Alex Hurst is a staff writer for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Silver and Optimyz Magazines based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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