Dementia is undoubtedly one of the most frightening and devastating prospects of aging. We’ve all had moments of forgetfulness or absent-mindedness, but as we approach middle-age, it can stir a deep unease and anxiety. It’s certainly hard to quell that tiny inner fear when the statistics are so confronting.
Over 400,000 Australians are currently living with dementia. The direct costs alone of dementia are close to $9 billion. It’s the leading cause of disability among Australians over 65 and second leading cause of death in Australia. In 2017, over 200 people were diagnosed with dementia per day.
There is currently no cure for dementia, but research has highlighted seven key modifiable lifestyle factors that are attributed to close to 50% of dementia cases. This research at least gives everyone the chance to take personal responsibility for trying to lower these risk factors.
What are the 7 key factors and how do you manage them?
Midlife hypertension – Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and death. Research consistently shows that people who have high blood pressure during midlife (from your mid-40s) are on average more likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal blood pressure. It’s critical to get your blood pressure checked regularly by your GP. If your blood pressure is high, your GP will recommend dietary changes and/or medication to help reduce it.
Diabetes – Note that getting older can mask some diabetes symptoms. To help prevent the onset of diabetes: eat a balanced, healthy diet, manage your weight, limit your alcohol intake, control your blood pressure and quit smoking. Ask your GP to regularly check your blood sugar and make sure you follow their treatment advice if diabetes or other problems are found.
Mid-Life Obesity – Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions. It’s been found that obesity in mid-life is associated with a 70-100% increase in the risk of later developing dementia. Try and maintain a healthy body weight. Read more posts on how to stay in shape here.
Low Education Attainment – Regardless of the level of education you achieved, it’s never too late to continue to learn and educate yourself. Whether it be online courses, reading, adult education courses, or training for a new job – keep that brain active! Read more on Balance online courses here.
Smoking – Smokers have nearly an 80% higher dementia risk. Quitting can decrease the risk. Talk to your GP about methods to assist with the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. There are great online sources of motivation and support to help you quit smoking. Some quick links: Quitnow, call Quitline on 137848.
Physical inactivity – Increased physical activity can be built in to daily life and doesn’t have to be strenuous. Just half an hour a day is a good start. Increasing your physical activity assists with weight management and cardiovascular health, which in turn improves the risk of hypertension. Read more on Natalie Cook’s Motiv8 Me program.
Depression – People who have experienced serious depression (particularly depression that goes untreated) in their lives may be at greater risk for developing dementia. Not sure if what you’re experiencing is depression? There are many helpful websites like Beyond Blue, or Black Dog Institute to help you identify your symptoms and give advice. Talk to your GP about how you’re feeling and to discuss the treatment options that would be right for you. Read more posts on depression here.
Helpful information: Dementia Australia and the National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500