As attorneys who focus on the legal needs of the elderly, we work with many people who are struggling with dementia. We often help family members of people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia manage the legal, financial, and health care issues that arise when a loved one can no longer think for themselves. It is heartbreaking to see our loved ones lose touch with who they are and forget who we are. After experiencing this kind of loss, we would do anything to avoid it happening to us. But is it even possible to prevent dementia if our parents have it?
Researchers still have a lot to learn about Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, but promising studies are showing us that many people can reduce their risk of developing dementia by living a healthy lifestyle and being proactive about their medical conditions. We share some of the latest suggestions for staying sharp and also give you more information about what is known now about the different kinds of dementia
9 Tips for Staying Sharp as You Age
Your chances of developing dementia increase with age, but you can lower the odds by managing the environmental factors that contribute to the onset of dementia. Nine things you can start doing today to protect your brain health include:
- Stay mentally active. Engage in activities that stimulate your brain, such as reading, puzzles, learning new skills or languages, and engaging in intellectually challenging tasks.
- Be physically active. Regular exercise, such as walking, swimming, dancing, or any other form of aerobic activity, can help improve blood flow to the brain and promote brain health.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit your intake of processed foods, sugary snacks, and saturated and trans fats.
- Manage cardiovascular health. Take steps to maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. Conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes can increase the risk of dementia.
- Engage in social activities. Stay socially active by maintaining relationships with family, friends, and community. Participate in social activities, clubs, or volunteering, as social engagement has been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline.
- Get quality sleep. Prioritize getting sufficient sleep and establishing good sleep habits. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night to support brain health and overall well-being.
- Manage chronic conditions. Take proactive steps to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression, as these conditions can increase the risk of developing dementia.
- Protect your head. Take precautions to prevent head injuries. Wear seat belts in cars, use appropriate safety gear during sports or physical activities, and make your living environment safe to minimize the risk of falls and head trauma.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption are associated with an increased risk of dementia. Quit smoking if you currently smoke, and limit alcohol intake to moderate levels or avoid it altogether.
Work with your doctor, family members, friends, and community to ensure that you can tick off all of these boxes. It's never too late to start living a healthy lifestyle.
Common Types of Dementia That Affect the Elderly
When symptoms of dementia start after the age of 65, it is usually considered to be some form of age-related dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, but many people develop multiple types at the same time. Your doctor may run a variety of tests to try to diagnose your exact type of dementia, but it is not always possible to get a clear diagnosis.
Common types of dementia include:
- Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the progressive deterioration of memory, thinking abilities, and behavior. It is caused by the accumulation of abnormal protein plaques and tangles in the brain. Some of these causes can be prevented.
- Vascular dementia. Vascular dementia occurs when there is damage to the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the brain. It can result from strokes, small vessel disease, or other conditions affecting the blood vessels. Symptoms may include difficulties with memory, reasoning, attention, and executive function. Managing cardiovascular disease can prevent strokes and lower your risk of this type of dementia.
- Lewy body dementia. Lewy body dementia is characterized by the presence of abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies in the brain. It leads to cognitive decline, fluctuations in alertness and attention, visual hallucinations, movement difficulties, and sleep disturbances.
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Frontotemporal dementia encompasses a group of disorders characterized by the progressive degeneration of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It often affects behavior, personality, language skills, and executive functions. FTD can lead to changes in social behavior, impulsivity, language difficulties, and apathy.
- Mixed dementia. Mixed dementia refers to a combination of different types of dementia, most commonly Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. It is often challenging to distinguish between the specific contributions of each type, as they can occur simultaneously and have overlapping symptoms.
- Parkinson's disease dementia. Parkinson's disease, a movement disorder, can progress to include cognitive decline and dementia. Symptoms may include difficulties with memory, attention, and executive functions, as well as motor impairments such as tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare, rapidly progressive degenerative brain disorder caused by abnormal proteins called prions. It leads to cognitive decline, muscle stiffness, involuntary movements, and other neurological symptoms.
How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help If Your Loved One Has Dementia
Elder Law Attorneys do more than just meet the legal needs of seniors. They also serve as counselors and consultants on a variety of issues faced by people as they age, including dementia. If you or someone you love is getting older and showing signs of dementia, consider talking to an Estate Planning firm that specializes in Elder Law issues. At Ross & Shoalmire, we are committed to helping seniors with dementia and their families face legal and financial challenges.