The “D” Word
Almost nothing strikes fear in the hearts of most people any more than the word, “Dementia”. I work with this common malady and while some patients are distraught, many are not. While I am not diminishing the devastating effect that a dementia diagnosis may have, the diagnosis may not be as bad as you think. I know many people who have the diagnosis but are still content. It is very hard for loved ones to see the changes that take place in a dementia patient, but the patient may be okay with it after a certain point of progression of the disease. Everyone thinks that all of these people are always miserable, but that is definitely not the case.
The phrase, “second childhood” was coined to refer to a time when someone reverted back to childlike thinking. While none of us would choose that, I have known of dementia patients who were very childlike in a way that I almost envied. One woman in particular comes to mind who loved to dance. Have you seen the memes, “Dance Like Nobody’s Watching!”? Well, she did, and I’ve known others with similar behaviors. Some of these people also reverted back to an innocence that was long gone. The bitterness, exhaustion and cynicism of the disillusionment of adulthood fell away like scales and they became free.
There are many different types of dementia, and they are all unique. This article is not intended to diagnose or treat this life-altering disease. It is merely a discussion of dementia and how it may affect those who are affected by it. If I can offer even a ray of hope to either the patient or the family, then I have accomplished my purpose. I use the term “dementia” loosely to describe various disorders of the mental processes that cause memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning. For the purpose of this article, I am including Alzheimer’s Disease in this umbrella discussion although it is actually a separate entity.
1-Memory loss- I am not referring to losing your car keys, repeatedly. The type of memory loss associated with dementia may present like someone who just put up the groceries picking up their keys to go to the grocery store, forgetting that they’ve just been there. We all forget things. Sleep deprivation, blood sugar swings and the stress of daily living can cause profound memory disturbances. Sleep deprivation, and even sleeping too much, has been linked to the possible development of dementia. The memory loss that begins to show up in dementia is more than annoying. It can be life-altering and even dangerous. Someone may forget where they’ve lived for years and try to return to a childhood home when they leave the grocery store to go home. It’s not like you just forgot your grocery list.
2-Progressively being at a loss for words. While struggling to find just the right word to describe your thoughts is common, this is not. The problem interferes with communication to the point that others have trouble understanding what you are trying to say.
3-Visual and spatial disturbances such as getting lost while driving or an increase in accidents. This is not normal.
4-An inability to problem-solve is a common symptom. If you are becoming increasingly incapable of managing your life, see a doctor now.
5-Personality changes that are not the result of circumstances. Sometimes life has a way of changing us but if you find yourself doing things completely out of character, you very well may have a problem.
6-Increased depression, anxiety agitation or paranoia that is not circumstantial. If you have experienced a traumatic event that is causing you to feel some of these emotions, they should improve with good medical care. If these symptoms do not improve, or worsen. it could be a sign of trouble.
7-Repeating yourself without being aware that you are doing so. Sometimes we will repeat old fish tales and such just to be social. We know that we’re doing that. If you are telling the same person, the same thing over and over and do not realize it, that may be a symptom of dementia.
While these are not all of the symptoms, these things can indicate the need for medical intervention.
Just as the rest of the body responds to good nutrition, so does the brain. A diet that is full of the rich phytonutrients found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables has a cognitive-enhancing effect on the brain. Foods that are high in flavonoids are known to have cognitive enhancing qualities. Blueberries, blackberries, apples, celery, cherries, onions, red cabbage, spinach, peppers and green tea are all excellent sources of flavonoids. Eat oily fish such as salmon and sardines that are rich in omega-3 fats. Omega-3’s have an anti-aging effect on the brain.
Eliminate or at least reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet. Sugar causes brain inflammation which is found in many forms of dementia. Manage your weight for the same reason. Excess pounds cause inflammation throughout the body.
Catch some zzz’s! Six hours of sleep or less is associated with the development of dementia. Seven hours is recommended for good health. The quality of sleep is also important. Just laying in bed staring at the ceiling does not rest your brain. See your doctor if you have trouble sleeping.
Exercise! 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, including cardio, is thought to help prevent the development of dementia. While the effects will not be as good after the diagnosis, even then, good exercise may slow the progress. It is believed that 2-3 strength training sessions per week in those 65 and older may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 50%! (1)
Keep your brain active with things that challenge you mentally. Learn something new and get good at it. Stay connected socially to keep those neuro connections running smoothly. If you don’t communicate, you may get to where you can’t. As we say at David’s Way to Health and Fitness, “Create Your Life.”
Manage stress. Stress is known to cause shrinkage in a memory center of the brain and inhibit new nerve cells. One of the things that we teach is to “Make Your World Small”. People and activities that do you more harm than good can predispose you to dementia. Choose your friends, job and leisure activities wisely to ensure that they enhance your mind and your life overall.
As you can see, the lifestyle that we promote here at David’s Way to Health and Fitness is good for more than your body. It is also good for your mind. Humans are holistic beings. Every system affects every other system of our bodies. While there are some good medications available to treat dementia, wouldn’t it be so much better if it never cones to that?
Do your part to do your part in staying healthy today.
I have written another article for caregivers. You can find it here. https://davidsway.blog/2022/02/20/caregivers-read-this/