If you have ever known anyone who has suffered from dementia, then you know just how terrible of a disease it can be. Can you imagine losing the ability to care for yourself, think for yourself or remember the faces and names of your loved ones? While this may sound too painful to envision, it’s the reality for more than 47 million Americans.
Dementia is a general term for any disease causing a decline in mental ability. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting one in eight elderly Americans. These types of progressive illnesses are tragic, as they perpetuate the loss of cognitive functions, including memory, language skills and the ability to perform daily tasks.
Dementia is caused by degenerative damage to brain cells, making it difficult for important neurons in charge of memory and learning to communicate with each other. This leads to the hallmark symptoms of confusion and impaired reasoning associated with the disease. While there are no scientifically proven reasons as to why these cells start to break down with age, exposure to pesticides and harmful toxins as well as a poor diet have all been linked to dementia-type brain disorders.
Luckily, there’s hope within reach for sufferers of this dismal disease. Until now, medication available to dementia patients helps only to mask symptoms and prolong life while doing nothing to reverse brain damage caused by the disease. According to the World Dementia Council, however, recent scientific findings indicate that a cure for dementia could be as close as five years away.
Dr. Gillings, chairman of the World Dementia Council, says that “great strides” have been made in developing treatments that could help remove plaques in the brain and repair tangled neurons that cause brain degeneration. He is “optimistic” that treatments to stop or even reverse the disease could be made available as early as 2020.
The main roadblock to developing these types of breakthrough treatments is funding. The director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, says, “There is a tidal wave of dementia coming our way worldwide. We need to see greater investments in research to develop a cure, but also to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia.”
Of course, continuing research for development of dementia treatment is extremely important, but what if we were to look at dementia from a preventative perspective, rather than merely treating the illness as an inevitability?
Research suggests that there are certain things we can do in our early lives to avoid or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and other brain degenerative diseases. These preventative measures include:
- minimizing consumption of saturated fats
- eating a diet rich in vegetables and low in animal protein
- exercising at least three times per week
- avoiding harmful chemicals such as pesticides, cleaning agents and cooking with aluminum pots and pans.
Perhaps one reason for the pervasiveness of dementia-type illnesses is that our society is so consumed with keeping our bodies looking young that we neglect to take care of our brains and internal health. Basically, brain degenerative disease is a natural result of prolonging the life of our bodies without proportionately caring for our mental health. So maybe it’s time we start taking measures to care for our brains while we’re young.
Research led by Tufts University recently linked a Western diet and relatively sedentary lifestyle to the pervasiveness of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the study found that nearly 25 percent of Alzheimer’s cases are linked to a poor diet and lack of exercise. This “Western” diet “combines high amounts of animal products, fat and sugars with low plant-based content and nutrient density.”
What if we could avoid these tragic diseases by simply living better, healthier, more active lives? While it is true that genetics play a role in the development of dementia, the preventative measures suggested by scientific research seem too simple to neglect. Or have we become so disconnected from our own mental and physical health that we are no longer able to ensure a long, healthy life?
Do you think it’s important to take preventative measures to avoid or delay the onset of dementia? Do you think our society does a poor job of encouraging people to live a healthy, mindful and active lifestyle that could prevent these types of diseases?
Stephanie Catudal is a mother, writer, hiker and outdoor enthusiast. She can often be found exploring the Ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona, or splashing in the cool waters of Sedona’s red rock canyons with her husband and two daughters. Steph is a holistic health enthusiast and finds strength in her personal pursuit of fitness and wellness. She has degrees in Media, Peace and Conflict studies and is passionate about building peace both abroad and within her community.