January is Alzheimer’s awareness month.
Dementia can be an alarming consideration for older adults.
Although the majority of adults do not experience memory problems as they age, about 40% will experience some form of memory loss after age 65. Even then, memory loss can be mild enough that day-to-day lives are lived without interruption.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms affecting brain function. Dementia can be caused by neurodegenerative and vascular diseases or injuries such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, or vascular dementia. Dementia is characterized by a decline in cognitive abilities such as memory, awareness of person, place, and time, language, basic math skills, judgement, and planning. Dementia can also affect mood and behaviour.
What does early-stage dementia look like? In early stage dementia, memory loss is severe to the point where:
- It affects your daily life and ability to stick to your normal routine
- You find it difficult to learn new things
- You find it difficult to complete tasks you’re familiar with
- Others close to you are starting to notice changes in your abilities.
Your doctor can
If you have questions or concerns related to your cognitive functioning or that of someone you care about, reach out to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada or speak with your doctor.
How is CARP advocating for those with Alzheimers?
CARP is concerned about the impact of dementia (including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia) on the Canadian population, particularly given that our population is aging.
By 2050, nearly 2 million people living in Canada could be living with dementia.
In September 2022, the Alzheimer’s Society launched a report to explore what can be done to change Canada’s dementia future.
CARP aligns with the Alzheimer’s Society in many regards, in particular in our commitment to advocating for better wait times related to diagnosis and specialists, advocating for vast improvements in home and community care and a culture change in long term care facilities. We also aim to educate our members about the value of fitness, which studies suggest can help protect cognitive function.
Here’s how to protect your cognitive health
While there are some risk factors you cannot control for dementia, such as age and genetics, reducing the effects of risk factors that can be controlled is possible. Research clearly indicates that staying socially active, being physically active and having a sense of purpose can help improve brain health in any phase of life.
Work on your physical fitness
Start where you are and make goals that are realistic. Walk or roll somewhere, rather than driving.
Keep it intuitive. Choose a physical activity that you genuinely enjoy and are more likely to stick to. If there’s an aerobic component, even better. Walking, swimming, hiking and dancing can all be aerobic.
Add a friend! If you do a physical activity with a friend it helps keep you accountable and also adds in the positive impact of social engagement.
Find ways to connect with others
Being socially active isn’t just about fun. It also provides health benefits for those who are aging. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, cognitive decline, dementia and more.
If you’re not a social butterfly, don’t worry. There are so many ways to connect – volunteer (why not get involved with your local or regional CARP), travel, pick up a new hobby, become a regular somewhere new, and even embrace social media.
Recent scientific research found that higher purpose or meaning in life was significantly associated with a reduced risk of multiple cognitive impairment outcomes.
Dr. Joshua Stott, author of a study on purpose and cognition, writes, “Our findings suggest that dementia prevention programmes for at-risk groups that focus on wellbeing could benefit by prioritising activities that bring purpose and meaning to people’s lives, rather than just hedonistic activities that might increase positive mood states. This may involve helping people to identify what is of value to them and then taking small steps to act in line with that value; for example, if environmentalism is important to someone, they might benefit from helping in a community garden.”