There are enough (bad) jokes about older people for most of us to know that aging brings about a range of health issues. If we look at the population in the United States, record numbers are overweight or obese, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and are prediabetic or diabetic. All of these conditions cause significant wear and tear on the body.
Body Health and Brain Health
Researchers are now just beginning to understand how these conditions can affect brain health as well. More and more studies have shown that dementia can be prevented if we take certain risk factors into account and try to help our loved one make some healthy changes in their lives.
For example, many people call sugar “white death.” Excessive consumption of carbohydrates has been associated with dementia and diabetes.
High blood pressure can cause mini-strokes, transient ischemic attacks or TIAs, causing damage to the brain that might lead to dementia. High blood pressure can also lead to a full stroke and paralysis, memory loss and an inability to function independently.
High cholesterol clogs the arteries, causing the blood pressure to go even higher as the heart tries to force blood through the narrowed blood vessels. Too much pressure can cause chunks of these deposits called plaques to break off and travel to the heart, leading to a heart attack (a myocardial infarction, or MI) or a stroke.
You might be familiar with plaque from TV ads about toothpaste. Interestingly, those with dental plaque can often have heart health issues. Even more interesting is that the most severe form of dementia, Alzheimer’s, is caused by amyloid plaque in the brain.
Unfortunately, many of the most common medications used to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol can actually trigger dementia-like symptoms. In addition, common over-the-counter remedies like allergy medications, antacids and sleeping pills can contribute to memory issues.
Smoking, drinking alcohol and eating a poor diet lacking in essential nutrients can also result in memory issues. Therefore, if you suspect your loved one has dementia, your first step might be to talk to your doctor about other medicines they could take that do not have the same side effects. Also set goals for healthier living, such as stopping smoking and eating a better diet rich in antioxidants (e.g. from blueberries) and fatty acids found in walnuts and fish.
If changing medications and lifestyle measures do not seem to help, then it might be dementia.
How Dementia Is Diagnosed
Dementia is diagnosed according to a scale that determines how well someone performs certain task related to:
- Home and hobbies
- Personal care
The five stages of dementia are:
- CDR (clinical dementia rating) 0 – no impairment
- CDR 0.5 – questionable impairment
- CDR 1 – mild impairment
- CDR 2 – moderate impairment
- CDR 3 – severe impairment
The most common strange changes that people notice in reference to a loved one with dementia include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Obvious problems understanding and communication
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace their steps
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Of course there could be other reasons for any one of these symptoms, but taken together they could point to dementia.
There is a great deal we can do to keep ourselves and our loved ones mentally alert well into their senior years. Learn more about dementia so you can help your loved one retain their faculties and remain independent for as long as possible.