About 16,300 Nova Scotians have dementia, and that number is expected to increase dramatically over the next 10 to 20 years. As members of the Baby Boom generation get older, their risk of developing dementia increases – and as the number of Nova Scotians with dementia increases, so will the demands on the health-care system and unpaid caregivers.
But this spike in dementia cases isn’t a foregone conclusion. In fact, although some risk factors (like genetics) can’t be changed, there are some simple, concrete ways to help yourself and your loved ones reduce your risk of developing dementia – and many of those things are what we might consider basic self-care. Even better, by working to protect your brain health, you’re also helping prevent other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Eating a healthy diet, avoiding head injuries and getting enough sleep every night are basic ways to help prevent dementia. Dr. Kerri-Leigh Cassidy, a Nova Scotia psychiatrist, developed “Fountain of Health,” a program helps people develop and maintain healthy behaviour patterns in five additional areas to optimize your brain health and well-being for the long term: positive thinking, social activity, physical activity, brain challenge and looking after your mental health.
We’ve all heard the advice to look on the bright side, keep a gratitude journal and develop a mindfulness practice. Sometimes, that advice can seem trite, but it turns out that keeping a positive outlook can have real benefits for your mental and physical health. Maintaining a positive outlook on life means you’re more likely to make choices that benefit your health, such as engaging in healthy activities, making new friends and learning new things – all ways that you can help live happier, for longer.
Stay physically and socially active
People who engage in regular physical exercise are less likely to develop heart disease and diabetes, which are risk factors associated with dementia. Getting your blood pumping helps nourish your brain with nutrients and oxygen, and also helps improve your mood. You don’t need to be running marathons or sky-diving to benefit; gentle activities such as gardening and walking count, too.
Research shows that regular social interaction may help reduce your risk of developing dementia by decreasing social isolation and depression. Staying socially active – whether that means attending church or club meetings, volunteering in your community, hosting regular get-togethers with friends, or even just chatting with the clerk at the grocery store – helps you stay connected with others.
Seek out challenges
Challenging your brain to learn new things is just as important for ongoing brain health as regular exercise and a healthy diet. Exercising your brain is like exercising a muscle – it gets stronger with use. In other words, engaging in ongoing education and life-long learning can help stave off memory problems and dementia. Reading, playing card games and doing puzzles, enjoying your hobbies and learning new skills are all great ways to keep your brain active and healthy for the long run.
Care for your mental health
While everyone experiences sadness and worry at times, depression and anxiety are different – and they can be treated, usually with the help of your doctor or other primary health care professional and a mental health professional such as a counsellor or therapist. Engaging in a mindfulness practice, managing your stress and getting good sleep are all ways to help maintain your mental health.
Are you or a loved one facing a dementia diagnosis? Whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease or another type of dementia, the Alzheimer Society has resources that can help. Find out more
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