Take steps to prevent dementia

Donna Wilcock, Ph.D./Guest Columnist

LEXINGTON -- Alzheimer's disease wreaks emotional havoc on patients, who are robbed of their memories, their dignity, and their lives. It's financially devastating as well: care for Alzheimer's patients is predicted to top $1 trillion by the time children born today are having children of their own.

More than 70,000 Kentuckians are living with Alzheimer's disease, which likely means that you know someone who has been impacted -- directly or indirectly -- by dementia. And since that number is expected to rise to more than 85,000 in the next five years or so, Alzheimer's will likely hit closer to home for many of us.

Dementia refers to the decline of mental ability. Alzheimer's disease is the more prevalent type of dementia, but also fairly common is vascular dementia. Often mislabeled as "senility," it is erroneously believed that dementia is a normal part of aging, when in fact, it is a substantial mental decline that can interfere with a person's ability to perform everyday tasks.

Dementia is a complex disease, and age and genetics can affect your risk. Though we can't change those factors, steps can be taken to reduce your risk.

One of the most important steps is keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy. Vascular dementia is linked to a lack of oxygen and vital nutrients to the brain. You can protect the network of blood vessels in your brain by quitting tobacco and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol in check with a diet of whole grains, fruits, fish and healthy fats.

Keeping your mind and body active can also reduce your risk. Regular physical exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's and can even slow the mental deterioration in those who have already have problems with memory. Learning a new skill such as dancing, woodworking, making art, a foreign language or even doing puzzles and playing games can offset your risk. Stay socially active by regularly meeting up with friends or volunteer in your community.

Some medicines and supplements, alone or in combination, can produce side effects that look like memory loss. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see whether changes in medication might help reduce these side effects. In addition, while many ads for supplements claim to improve memory and/or prevent memory loss, there is no proof that they are effective.

While there is no cure or surefire prevention for dementia, maintaining a brain-healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk, or even slow or reverse memory problems.

Donna Wilcock, Ph.D., is an associate director of the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

For more information:

UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging will host the Markesbery Symposium on Aging and Dementia, 8:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Lexington Convention Center Bluegrass Ballroom, 430 W. Vine St., Lexington, KY 40507. Admission is free, reservations required. Call (859) 323-5474 to make a reservation.

MORE ABOUT THE SYMPOSIUM:

• Dr. Laura Baker is the keynote speaker. She is a leading expert on dementia risk factors and prevention.

• The event also features an "Ask the Experts" panel where guests can ask questions of Sanders-Brown researchers.

• UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is one of the world's leading dementia research centers and one of the busiest dementia clinical trials centers in the country.

ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE FACTS AND FIGURES:

• Alzheimer's disease kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined.

• Every 65 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

• More than 70,000 Kentuckians are living with the disease. This number is expected to double by 2050.

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