Dementia: What is it? What feeds it? And how to prevent it?

4 min read

“Have you ever seen a person with dementia? Have you met one? You probably have but you were not aware of their health condition and probably thought that they have lost their marbles!”

This is what usually happens! A neighboring grandma suddenly started forgetting everything, her name, her children, and grand children’s names, slowly she forgot who they were, and who she was, steadily but surely her condition was declining but no one in the family was much concerned because for them it seemed OK for her to lose all those precious memories as they thought it was all part of aging process! Was it really OK? Looking back, I am pretty positive she was suffering from dementia that went undiagnosed. Just because she was old, was it really all right for her to lose her identity, her life’s treasure (her memories) and leave this world as a blank slate?

Another example, she is a family friend. A 50 something, till then pretty much healthy. But a couple of years ago suddenly she started losing her memories and her day to day life started to get affected! Now she isn’t an old lady and her husband is educated and concerned enough to show her to the doctor and surely the diagnosis came to be “Dementia”!

Till these two very close encounters, I thought Dementia was a rather rare condition. The only reason I even knew the condition existed was because of Sanjay Leela Bahnsali’s Black!

What is dementia really?

Dementia is a decline in mental ability that severely affects the quality of day to day life. Dementia describes a group of symptoms ranging from loss of memory to loss of cognitive skills. It is often misconstrued as senility thus the widespread belief that dementia is a normal part of getting old process! Watch this short video summarizing what Dementia is…

There are different types of dementia (click on each name for more information)

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease
  2. Vascular Dementia
  3. Dementia with Lewy Bodies
  4. Mixed Dementia
  5. Parkinson’s Disease
  6. Frontotemporal Dementia
  7. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  8. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
  9. Huntington’s Disease
  10. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

What causes dementia in otherwise healthy human beings?

Most common cause of dementia is premature degeneration of brain cells and shrinking of the brain. Vascular Dementia is caused when the blood supply to the brain is diminished. Another reason is clump/plaque formation inside the brain that interferes with neural transmissions. Dementia can also be hereditary. Long-term alcohol abuse is also one of the less common but definitive causes. Learn more about causes of dementia here.

It is very easy to get signs of aging confused or mixed up with signs of dementia.

Learn about 10 Early Warning Signs of Dementia.

Can we prevent Dementia?

Research in this domain is limited but from what we have got so far, indicates that certain types of Dementia, like the ones caused by nutritional deficiencies or metal toxicity, can be reversed with proper detoxification and diet. Vascular dementia can be prevented by preventing plaque formation. But mostly the degenerative ones are irreversible. However, the progression of the disease can be slowed down with the following efforts.

  1. One more reason to get moving 😉

We all have heard them, numerous benefits of exercise, now add one more to the list! Yes, multiple studies [1] have backed up the finding that physical activity reduces the risk of developing cognitive disabilities (including Dementia) during the later phase of life. And even for people with onset of Dementia, exercise can still help slow down the neural degeneration.

2. Food for thoughts

Several studies suggest that there is a reverse association between intellectual activity and cognitive decline!

Some prime examples of intellectual activity are Reading, Board Games, Memorizing, Observing, Solving puzzles, Imagination etc. And not just the cognitive activity but education also has a positive effect on retaining brain activity later in the life.

So, do you need any more motivation for picking up that book that you have been meaning to read for a while now?

3. Train the Brain!
Brain training is known to delay the onset of, slow down the progression of, and even in few cases improve the symptoms of cognitive decline.
One hypothesis for this mechanism is that perhaps training one’s brain increases the “brain reserve”. Another proposed theory is that prolonged mental activity decreases atrophy/shrinking of the brain. There are animal as well as human studies that have backed up the later.

“Pick up a chess board, pick up that Rubik’s cube, solve a riddle, open your mind to various stimuli surrounding us; and never lose the child within :)”

4. Nutrition

Different Nutrients and foods have been popularly associated with increasing/decreasing the risk of Dementia. Let’s see which ones feed it and which ones fight it-

5. Sleep

Too much of sleep and napping around (>9 hours/day) has been associated with increased risk of dementia. And have this, even too little sleep/poor quality sleep also increases one’s risk for dementia!

Now, friends, I know there is a lot of stigma around mental health and seeing a mental health professional, but conditions like Dementia can be successfully treated or cared for if diagnosed early. So if you suspect a loved one of having dementia, if you see any early signs, do consult a mental health professional or a Neurologist ASAP.

Find a mental health professional or a Neurologist near you at DawaiBox.

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Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

She is a Registered Dietitian who does not believe in dieting; She has a Master's Degree in Nutrition but she is not your "I know it all Nutrition Guru!"; She loves food but loves talking about food even more. Her articles are a direct reflection of her personal quest where nutrition science meets real life! Oh, and she is owned by a 3 m.o. naughty kitten :)

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