Well-being: the best ways to stay mentally healthy into old age

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Hundreds of thousands of people battle Alzheimer's and dementia every day... What can we do to reduce the risk of developing it?

Currently more than 520,000 people in the UK have Alzheimer’s disease, and an estimated 50 million globally. And it's not something which only affects old people. Early onset Alzheimer's can begin in middle age (or earlier) and caring for elderly relatives affects everyone in the family, including young grandchildren.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia – a set of symptoms that can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.

High profile cases include the late Sir Terry Pratchett (right), actress Lynda Bellingham, football legend Jimmy Hill, novelist Iris Murdoch and Hollywood stars Rita Hayworth and James Stuart, among scores of others.

In August this year Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan (left) was appointed by the Alzheimer’s Society and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt as the first ever UK Global Dementia Friends Ambassador.

In the UK the Alzheimer's Society is the main organization raising awareness of this devastating illness, but it is by no means the only body working towards a solution.

Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI) is a global organisation dedicated to raising awareness about the disease, with September marked annually as World Alzheimer’s Month.

This year, 2016, will mark the fifth global World Alzheimer’s Month, an international campaign to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia.

The theme for World Alzheimer's Month 2016 is ‘Remember Me’, and ADI is asking people to get involved by sharing their favourite memories, or memories of a loved one, on social media with the hashtags #RememberMe and #WAM2016. 

Alzheimer associations in more than 60 countries are taking part in this year's campaign.

What is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's disease, so-named widely in 1910 after the doctor who first described it (German psychiatrist Aloysius Alzheimer, 1864-1915), is a physical disease that affects the brain.

During the course of the disease, proteins build up in the brain to form structures called 'plaques' and 'tangles', which leads to a loss of connection between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.

People with Alzheimer's also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain which help to transmit signals. When there is a shortage of them, the signals are not transmitted as effectively.  

Who does it affect?

International studies make it clear that dementia occurs in every country of the world. Dementia affects 1 in 20 people over the age of 65 and 1 in 5 over the age of 80. As of 2015, worldwide there were an estimated 46.8 million people with dementia. By 2050 is it thought the number will rise to 131.5 million.


The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are generally mild to start with, but they get worse over time and start to interfere with daily life.

Ten early symptoms of dementia:

  1. Memory loss
  2. Difficulty in performing everyday tasks
  3. Problems with language
  4. Disorientation to time and place
  5. Poor or decreased judgment
  6. Problems with keeping track of things
  7. Misplacing things
  8. Changes in mood or behaviour
  9. Changes in personality
  10. Loss of initiative

The worldwide costs of dementia are estimated at £630 billion. As a result, if dementia care were a country, it would be the world’s 18th largest economy.

If it were a company, it would be the world’s largest by annual revenue exceeding both Apple  and Google.

How you can reduce your risk of developing dementia

There are lots of things you can do to reduce your chances of developing dementia. You can adopt a healthy lifestyle at any time. It's never too early, but starting in mid-life is a good time if you've not already done so.

Many people use significant changes in their lives - for example, children moving out, a health scare, divorce or starting the menopause - as a trigger to live more healthily.

You will find it easier to adopt a healthier lifestyle (eg exercising more or eating better) if you can build it into your normal daily routine.

Getting your friends and family to support you - or better yet, join you - also makes it more fun and therefore makes you more likely to continue.

  • Be physically active - Regular moderate physical exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia, raise your cardiovascular health and improve your mental wellbeing. 'Regular' means exercising five times each week for 30 minutes each time.
  • Stop smoking - If you do smoke, stop. It is better to stop smoking sooner (or better still, to never start) but it is never too late to quit.
  • Eat healthily - A healthy balanced diet includes lots of fruit and vegetables (five plus portions a day) Fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables all count. A healthy diet also has fish at least twice a week, including oily fish which contains healthy polyunsaturated (omega-3) fatty acids and vitamin D.
  • Maintain a healthy weight - Keeping to a healthy weight will reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease - and hence probably of dementia.
  • Drink alcohol within recommended levels (if at all) - If you do drink, keep below the recommended NHS levels. These changed in 2016 and are now a maximum of 14 units each week for men and women, spread over three or more days.
  • Keep mentally active ('Use it or lose it') - If you can keep your mind stimulated you are likely to reduce your risk of dementia. Regular mental activity throughout a person's lifetime seems to increase the brain's ability, so find something enjoyable which stimulates your mind, do it regularly and keep doing it.
  • Be social - Keeping socially engaged and having a supportive social network may reduce your dementia risk, as well as make you less prone to depression and more resilient.  
  • Take control of your health - Managing your health can reduce your dementia risk. If you are invited for an NHS Health Check , or free mid-life 'MOT' (in England), make sure you go.

Information is taken from http://www.alz.co.uk/

and Alzheimer's Disease International

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