Meet Tara. She is 70 years old and lives with her children. Tara was a nurse back in her time and was popular for being up to date with all the latest advances in nursing care. She was known for her warm personality, her ability to strike up a conversation with anybody about anything and her amazing ability to remember birthdays. Tara was being interviewed by the local nursing school to document her achievements over the years. She states that she has two grandchildren aged 3 and 5 years respectively, who keep her on her toes. Tara boasts about being independent with all her activities even today – she stated that she enjoys cooking and swims regularly to keep fit. The nurses are impressed and are proud of their choice of Tara as a role model. As they exit her apartment, they see a young girl (around 12-15 years old) entering the house. How nice, they think. Even the young generation are excited by Tara’s spirit!
Unknown to the local nurses, the young 10-12 year old girl is Tara’s grand-daughter. Her other grandchild is 7 years old. Tara has not been swimming in the past year. While she used to be an excellent cook, off late, her daughter prefers that she doesn’t cook. Tara forgot to turn off the gas a few months ago, and it was lucky that her daughter was home then and corrective measures could be taken quickly to avoid anybody getting hurt. She has also been observed to add salt to tea instead of sugar and she tends to misplace objects around the house. Tara’s story, could be your story.
Tara is suffering from dementia, a class of neurodegenerative diseases that result in a progressive worsening of your thinking and an inability to complete your daily tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is but one type of dementia. In fact, depending on the type of dementia, different symptoms may be observed in the initial stages – it could be your memory, your behaviour, your language skills, your ability to navigate the visual environment etc. With disease progression though, multiple areas of deficit become apparent and it may become impossible to distinguish the type of dementia an individual has.
Unlike the makeup of our society, the nature of dementia is such that it does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. People from all backgrounds, from all socio-economic classes, of varying education levels, different religions – nobody is immune to it. And worst of all, there is no cure for it. There are however a great deal of things we can do to prevent the onset of these diseases to begin with. In other words, as of now, prevention seems to be the best cure. Add to this some of the most recent figures from epidemiological studies which predict a doubling in the incidence of dementia every 20 years. Secondly, most of this increase is predicted to stem from developing countries, which means those of us here in India are definitely set to be in the line of fire. With a rapidly growing ageing population, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, spiking rates of mental illness and lack of concern for our future selves, a dementia epidemic would appear to be inevitable.
If you found the above narrative even mildly worrying, then today is the day to start doing something to reduce your dementia risk. The youth or middle-aged population tends to not take this seriously as dementia is primarily thought to be a disease of the elderly. Consider this though – your brain starts showing signs of degeneration decades before you start experiencing cognitive symptoms. That is to say, dementia is not something in the faraway future. The way you choose to live today can have significant implications in terms of improving your brain health, and in turn, giving yourself the best chance at a long and fulfilling life.
The bottom line is, healthy brain ageing requires a lifestyle change. It is a string of small changes that can make a huge difference. Start by trying to change one thing at a time, and start out small. But be sure to start. Because every little step counts!
Best time to start is today
- Regular exercise and a healthy diet are both helpful for your brain.
- Current guidelines suggest 20 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise, 3 times a week.
- Adhere to a healthy, nutrient rich diet, containing whole grains and green leafy vegetables is also beneficial to the brain.
- Be sure to reach out for help if you feel you are struggling
- You may be running to meet deadlines and feeling sandwiched between competing demands, but it is important to take time out for yourself.
- A good night’s sleep is vital for sound mental and physical health, and in turn brain health.
Dr Deepa Bapat
(The opinions expressed in this article are solely the views of the author)