There are some common early symptoms of dementia to note, including memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word, and spotting these as soon as possible means treatment is more likely to be able to control the condition.
All types of dementia are progressive, meaning the brain becomes increasingly damaged over time and fatal complications can occur.
But experts believe cognitive decline can be prevented through some simple lifestyle changes. Clare Daley, nutritional therapist at Cytoplan, has six top tips.
Dementia can be prevented through some simple lifestyle changes
Improve your nutrition
Nutrition is essential for cognitive health, according to Clare. When looking to support brain function, you should consider foods low in sugar and moderate in starchy carbohydrates (e.g. sweet potato, carrots and leafy greens), those that contain healthy fats (e.g. avocado, nuts) and make sure you have plenty of vegetables with each main meal.
She added: “Eating foods that are low in sugar can prevent the development of insulin resistance. This refers to insulin not working properly in helping glucose enter the brain cells where it is needed. This has the dual effect of blood sugar levels remaining high in the brain (and causing damage to neurones) and the brain cells being starved of glucose (i.e. fuel) because glucose cannot get into cells in sufficient amounts.
“Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidant nutrients. The brain is very susceptible to damage by ‘free radicals’ and antioxidants provide protection from these.
“Finally, the brain is 60 per cent fat. Having a diet with adequate healthy dietary fats including the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, is important.”
Improve your gut health
Did you know there’s an intrinsic link between gut and brain health? Clare said: “Poor gut health increases inflammation and this is one of the features of many chronic health conditions including cognitive decline.
“To improve gut health, remove specific foods from your diet that may trigger gut symptoms. Add in nutrients and fibre to support gut health (e.g. green leafy vegetables, chicory, apples, olive oil and even 70 per cent dark chocolate).”
Dementia: There are six ways recommended to prevent cognitive decline
Reduce your stress levels
We are all familiar with the causes of stress, said Clare. Persistently elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) can kill brain cells and negatively affect brain function.
Clare advised: “In order to effectively manage stress, it is important to focus on stress reduction activities that work for you. These could include yoga, meditation, mindfulness, massage, breathing techniques, gardening, reading, listening to music or keeping a happiness and gratitude journal. When we learn to effectively manage our stress, we see an improvement in our sleep, energy, patience, resilience, focus and memory.”
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is vital for optimal brain health as during sleep our brain cells detoxify and cleanse.
Clare said: “Melatonin is the hormone responsible for restful sleep, however as we age we produce less, and therefore older individuals often experience more trouble sleeping.
“While eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is possibly a dream for many of us, it’s important to find sleep strategies that work for you. For example, you could look to stick to a regular sleep cycle or create a relaxing bedtime routine.
“In addition, research has shown a number of factors can lead to a good night’s sleep including eating well, getting regular exercise and avoiding screens before bedtime.”
Dementia: Improving your nutrition can help prevent the condition
Dementia: Good gut health is also important when it comes to preventing the condition
We all know the many health benefits of physical activity, said Clare, however few of us are aware of the role it plays in optimising cognitive health.
She added: “Aerobic exercise protects the brain from damage and stimulates the production of new brain cells responsible for memory and emotions. These cells commonly become damaged due to age and disease.
“Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and thus the delivery of oxygen and nutrients that are essential for brain function including concentration. In addition, physical activity that challenges you mentally, for example table tennis and dancing, has been shown to create new connections within the brain.
“The Department of Health recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week for adults. It should involve a combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training. This needs to be a lifestyle change not a quick fix so it’s important to find a type of exercise you enjoy.”
Train your brain
Challenging and stretching the brain allows new connections to be created and maintained.
Clare explained: “The adult brain continuously adapts to relevant sensory stimuli. Activities which challenge all the senses will help maintain processing speed.
“The wider range of activities you use, the more you will stimulate your brain in different ways. For example, you can read, write, do a crossword or puzzle, play games, use your non-dominant hand for everyday activities like brushing your teeth, cook new recipes or take up a new hobby. Remember, as with physical activity, it’s important to choose activities you will enjoy ensuring you continue to do them regularly.”