By Amy Henderson – Journalist
For many dementia is an ugly word.
It is the thing that has taken their freedom from them, for spouses it is the thing that has changed the person they have loved for decades.
It is a thing they fear, it is a thing they hate. To enter into this discussion is first to acknowledge the pain, hurt and confusion in this space.
Australia and those who inhabit this land must stand with and support our most vulnerable.
That is the very start.
Nearly half a million people are living with dementia in Australia currently. Dementia is the foremost cause of disability among those 65 and over in Australia and the second leading cause of death.
Professor Kaarin Anstey of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) highlighted new findings from a recently published report on ageing and decline trends in Australia.
Professor Anstey and the report have shown the prevalence of dementia in Australia has been seen to double every five years between those aged 70 to 84.
“Australia’s ageing population is leading to an increasing number of Australians with the disease which will further impact individuals, society and the economy over the next decade,” Professor Anstey stated.
This trend demands action on behalf of Australia at large, from health care professionals to us locals at the corner pub.
With the costs of this disease ranging from huge financial costs on the Australian economy to grievous personal costs to families, this is an area that all Australians should be weighing into.
The report displayed worrying ignorance when it came to modifiable factors that would discourage the development of dementia.
“While some detrimental attributing factors to dementia such as smoking and alcohol consumption were known, other factors connected to cognitive health were unknown to over 95% of the sample population,” Prof Anstey commented. She believed “This highlights the need for increased local community engagement and advocacy.”
Professor Anstey and the research conducted, estimates that nearly 50% of dementia cases can be closely linked to seven key modifiable lifestyle factors.
Many of us begrudgingly contribute to our superannuation funds, knowing in the back of our minds it’s probably a good idea to save some money for when we’re less likely and able to frolic around in the workforce. Yet for most of us, we don’t treat our brain that way.
“It’s like investing in your superannuation. You need to invest in your brain over the course of your life so you have a nice healthy brain when you’re old,” she says.
For both men and women, investing in friendships, meeting new people and spending significant time socialising is vital.
A science researcher at the Wicking Dementia Research Centre in Hobart highlights, “When you’re interacting with another person, that’s an intellectually stimulating activity. You’re using a lot of your brain to do that.”
The thing with keeping your brain active is not so much that you have to do things that are supposedly ‘smart’, like doing the cryptic crossword or reading a zillion books, it’s doing something your brain finds challenging.
If you’re an ace at the cryptic crossword completing one is not challenging and won’t be making your brain sparks fly.
Start learning a new language.
If you already play the trumpet, pick up the violin.
If you’ve always been a reader, start doing calculus or learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube.
If you’re natural instinct is to go, ‘oh golly, that is out of my comfort zone’ likely as not, you’re on the right path to keeping your brain fit.
We can almost hear the collective, ‘not this again’ but science seems to hound us with fact and findings.
A healthy body very regularly leads to a healthy mind.
Physical exercise has consistently been found to reduce depression which is a major risk factor in dementia and a decline in ageing.
Through exercise the brain is happily pumped with oxygen which goes miles to keep it healthy and happy.
“In Australia, insufficient exercise is the no.1 modifiable risk factor,” Professor Anstey says.
Dementia is strongly linked to poor heart health in general. Focussing on reducing factors that contribute to this such as high-blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity is an accessible approach to ensuring a strong and dependable heart and head.
Professor Anstey keenly emphasised that community awareness and action is what is needed in the next steps to tackling this condition, “We need to develop better diagnostic tests and assessments, increase community education to ensure risk factors attributed to dementia are better managed, and support carers to reduce carer distress in the broader community,” Prof Anstey said.