Every 3 seconds someone in the world develops dementia, by 2050 the number of people with dementia is expected to exceed 130 million, and the total estimated cost of dementia will double from 1 to $2 trillion within the next 10 years. These numbers are, albeit meaningful, hard to relate to. But dementia is much more than a problem of numbers. It’s a personal problem. These numbers are just telling us that dementia in one way or another will impact all of our lives.
As a neuroscientist I have long been fascinated with the workings of the brain and questions like: What makes us ‘us’? How do we remember? What happens when things go wrong? I studied the brain at many different levels, and very quickly learned that studying and understanding a disease of the brain scientifically is very different to the human day-to-day experience of being affected by one. The smallest alteration within our brains can cause a cascade of changes to our personal and professional lives.
Dementia is one of the consequences of these alterations. It is something that we have all heard of but maybe not truly understood. Perhaps you know a family member, friend or colleague who has been diagnosed? But what actually is dementia? Officially, dementia is defined as an umbrella term that describes a number of symptoms, including memory loss, as well as behavioural, psychological and physical changes. What the definition doesn’t tell you is how these symptoms creep up on you and affect your everyday life. Receiving a diagnosis means facing the unknown: every person with dementia is different and therefore no one can really tell you what will happen. And that is scary.
It’s easy to remain detached when it doesn’t directly affect you. Until it does. A few months ago my grandpa was diagnosed with dementia. And that’s when the reality of receiving a diagnosis really hit me. It sucks. There is currently no cure for dementia and although you can live a good life with dementia, you can’t stop its progression.
But there is something you can do. You can support the families affected by dementia. And you can do everything in your power to stay healthy and prevent it from happening to you – over one third of dementia cases are preventable. That’s why you should care. It’s in your power to change your lifestyle.
One of the most well-known factors that influences our risk of getting dementia is cardiovascular health. What does that mean for you? You won’t like the answer, because it’s actually quite simple. And not very fun. It means you should avoid smoking and drinking too much, exercise regularly, and eat healthily. So why does a happy heart go hand in hand with a happy brain? Our brain may only consist of about 2% of our total body weight, but it uses 20% of Oxygen. This means the brain is very reliant on the heart, and any changes to the blood supply affect brain functioning. We tend to see our brains, and hence our minds, as a separate entity from our bodies. But they are part of the same system, and more and more studies are showing just how closely interrelated they are. Recent work has revealed that the bacteria in your gut and even your gums likely have a direct impact on your brain health. A healthy body is key to a healthy mind. So, what are you waiting for?
This article is based on research publications and information from well-known organisations in the dementia space. Sources include: