What is a Dementia?

What is a Dementia? Are there many types of dementias? Are they treatable?

As we get older, we wonder and sometimes worry about “having dementia.” What is it and what are the chances?

Dementia is a general term – and umbrella term – for many diseases that affect the brain, or “cognition.”

Cognition involves memory, thinking, problem solving, decision making, communication and/or personality.

Dementias are diseases that affect cognition and, as a result, affect an individual’s ability care for himself or herself, work, do hobbies, and socialize.

Reversible Dementias

It is not unusual for people to become disoriented and forgetful as a result of a medical condition When diagnosed and treated promptly, the dementia may be reversible. Examples of conditions that may be reversible are

  • Dehydration
  • Nutrients insufficiency
  • New medication or interaction of medications
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Depression
  • Infections
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Tumors

Irreversible Dementias

Dementias that are progressive or chronic, and for which there are no known treatments at this time, are associated with diseases such as

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (about 60% of all dementia cases)
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies
  • Frontotemporal Dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  • Alcohol-related brain damage, including Korsakoff’s Syndrome)
  • HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder

 

For a brief description of chronic dementias, see the Alzheimer’s Society website at Chronic Dementias. A list and brief overview of reversible dementias can be found at Reversible Dementias.

Memory Improvement: Tips of the Trade – Challenges

How Can I Make My Memory Better?

We have all heard about ways to maintain a good memory, but what are the best ways?

Take a quick quiz: Look at the list below and number them from 1 (very important), 2 (somewhat important), to 3 (not important at all).

  • Do the crossword puzzle in the local newspaper every day.
  • Play a musical instrument.
  • Meet with friends for coffee and conversation.
  • Continue to work as long as possible.
  • Exercise thirty minutes five days a week.
  • Meditate when you feel stressed.

Was this quiz a trick? Well, maybe. All these activities can be helpful in maintaining a “strong” memory if you challenge yourself when you do them.

Challenging the brain helps build more connections between brain cells, and these connections are the support system for a strong memory.

  • Doing a crossword puzzle is a great way to stay sharp, if you don’t choose a puzzle that is very easy for you. Step it up. Go to the next level. Make sure you have to put some effort into completing the puzzle.
  • The same is true for playing an instrument. When you learn new music, practice it and think about what you are doing, you build connections in your brain that are good for a “strong” memory.
  • Talking with friends? Just going over the same old gossip? Enjoying being with your friends is good for your brain. However, when you tackle new ideas, talk about books you have read, or even argue about politics, you add a challenge that is good for your memory and thinking.
  • Just putting in time at the office? There is benefit to staying active by continuing to work, but as with talking with friends, taking on new tasks and challenges causes our brains to build connections.
  • Reducing stress and increasing exercise improve the biochemistry of the brain. Stress hormones have a negative effect on the brain. Exercise helps to keep a good flow of blood and oxygen to the blood…and reduces stress. Great ideas for a healthy brain!

 

For some more about maintaining a good memory, you might look at Ideas for Maintaining a Good Memory.

Memory Improvement: Tips of the Trade – Healthy Living

Healthy Living for Healthy Brains and Bodies

We all know that we feel good when we are active, eat well and have enjoyable jobs and social lives. However, we don’t always realize how important good life style choices are for our bodies and brains. Is it possible, for example, to have “stronger” brains that help us remember and think? Can we delay some diseases and avoid others?

Many life style choices are equally beneficial for our brains and our bodies. Let’s look at some of them.

  • Exercise!

Exercise improves blood flow to all parts of the body. Each time the heart beats, 25% of the blood it pumps goes to the brain to deliver nutrients and remove waste.

  • Eat well!

Look for foods that are high in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt, and simple carbohydrates such as table sugar and refine flours.

  • Socialize!

From dinner dates to volunteer activities, being with other people gives individuals a chance to learn, problem solve, have fun, and reduce stress . . . all good for the brain and body.

  • Sleep!

All people, regardless of age, need extended, fairly uninterrupted sleep to restore the body and strengthen new memories.

  • Challenges!

Challenges at work, home, in the community, and with hobbies increase our feelings of wellbeing and pride (good for positive hormones) and build the capacity of our brains to remember and process.

  • Monitor!

Keep track of health issues, medications, stress, alcohol consumption, and injuries to the head.

Memory Improvement: Tips of the Trade – Reducing Stress

Stress and Memory? Helpful or Harmful?

We all know the cycle: We are ready to leave for a doctor’s appointment and can’t find our car keys. We look everywhere, try to remember where we put them, look again, frantically call the doctor’s office, try remember again . . . and later, when we are calm, there they are, right where we put them earlier that day.

What happens when we are stressed?

Well, the answer isn’t as simple as we might think; but without digging deeply into research articles, the following is a general description of the relationship between stress and memory.

  • We need a little stress to make a memory . . . to put information into our memories. After all, we have to be motivated to learn something new. We have to want to remember or we have to need to remember, and both wanting and needing mean we are just a little stressed.
  • When we are chronically stressed (stressed most of the time), we don’t remember well. We are often confused and lack focus when we are chronically stressed.
  • We make stronger memories when we experience severe or traumatic stresses than when we deal with day to day stresses. We remember losing our wallets with all our identification and credit cards, having an accident, and other events that are even more stressful.

We need some stress to pay attention, but we don’t want to be stressed all the time. And, even though we remember best when we are severely stressed, there are many reasons that severe stress is not good for our health.

What is happening?

Essentially, when we are chronically stressed, we produce hormones that affect the structure of the brain itself and interfere with the way neurons in the brain communicate with each other. Too much of these hormones damage the communication in the brain . . . the connections or pathways that build our memories.

What do we do about this?

  • Identify stressors and try to minimize them.
  • Avoid increasing your stress when you don’t remember: relax, give yourself time to remember, change your focus for a while.
  • Live a healthy life style that promotes relaxation: exercise, meditate, socialize, sleep enough and eat well.

 

Would you like to read more about the effects of stress on memory? Look at Govender and Chesire’s CNN article at http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/17/health/memory-stress-link/.

 

Catch that Salmon! Eating Well for a Healthy Memory

Catch that Salmon! Eating Well for a Healthy Memory

We all have a secret food passion. . . maybe chocolate mousse smothered in fresh whip cream, a half-pound hamburger with a side of hand-cut fries, or roast beef and gravy with a side of creamy mashed potatoes.

OK. We indulge sometimes. However, heart healthy eating is good for . . . well, all parts of our bodies: our hearts, veins, arteries, and the organs that are nourished and cleaned by a healthy blood supply, which includes our brains!

Look at the list below and number them from 1 (very healthful), 2 (somewhat healthful) or 3 (not healthful at all, but maybe a passion).

  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Homemade white bread
  • Fresh broccoli
  • Whole grain bread and rolls
  • Olive oil
  • Lean beef
  • Avocados
  • Canned carrots
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Almonds

Look for foods that are high in fiber, healthy oils, vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt, and sugar.

Salmon, olive oil, avocados and almonds win for healthy fats, and broccoli and whole wheat bread gets on the list for fiber – not to mention other nutrients for all these choices.

Lean beef is not great, about in the middle of the list. It provides important nutrients, but should be a limited part of a diet.

Canned carrots and store-bought spaghetti sauce are often very high in sodium (salt) and white bread is low in fiber. And while you are checking, remember that these prepared foods may be loaded with sugar.

The Mediterranean Diet Plan is a good model for healthy food choice. Read more about this way of eating at Health.com’s 10 Things to Know about the Mediterranean Diet.