Whether it’s caused by Alzheimer’s or vascular disease, a diagnosis of dementia can make the future seem bleak. Although medical science still hasn’t discovered a cure for the condition, there is now a much greater understanding of dementia and the treatment of dementia. Medications, lifestyle modifications and management can all make a difference. With care, your loved one can live independently and safely for longer.
Training the brain
Keeping the brain active may slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s in the early stages. Puzzles, reading, computer games, chess or cards can all help to challenge the brain. Encourage your loved one to rediscover old hobbies or experiment with learning new skills.
Having an active social life can offer more than just fun and getting out of the house. People who regularly interact with others tend to be less depressed and more mentally alert. Isolation can depress mood and cognitive function. Day-centres, religious groups and societies and can all be enjoyable and therapeutic.
Keeping to the usual routine and structure of the day can improve the function of people with sementia. Familiar places and patterns are reassuring and there’s evidence that they can help maintain cognitive abilities and increase wellbeing. Live-in carers can allow your loved one to live safely at home while maintaining their independence and dignity.
Just because someone with dementia has forgotten how to brush their teeth or carry out simple tasks doesn’t mean there is no way back. There is evidence that by building on a person’s abilities and strengths, therapists can help those with dementia maintain and relearn skills. They can use specialist techniques and memory training exercises to unlock the brain’s potential. This means that the individual can be more independent, either at home or in residential care.
Eat well, live well
Eating a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of memory loss. Choose lots of fresh produce, fruit and veg, fish, pulses, nuts, seeds and healthy fats. Antioxidants are chemicals that can protect the brain from damage. The micronutrients vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene are all antioxidants, they can be found in green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, citrus fruits and berries.
Fit body and mind
Exercise may prevent dementia and slow the progress of the condition. In research, living an active life, exercising regularly and building leg-muscle strength were all linked to better mental function with increasing age.
Controlling risk factors
Some things increase the risk of dementia. If you manage these, you may slow down the rate of decline. If your loved one smokes, get them help and support to quit here.
Medications for dementia
Treatments have been developed to slow the advance of Alzheimer’s disease. They are prescribed by a GP or specialist and include:
- Cholinesterase Inhibitors can be useful in mild or moderate disease. Examples include Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne. They are useful in controlling hallucinations, which can be upsetting for the person affected and for their family.
- Memantine or Ebixa is usually used for severe dementia. However, it can also be useful for the treatment of people who can’t tolerate other medications.
There are also lots of interesting scientific studies looking into potential treatments for dementia. Some exciting early research is into a type of fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCT) that are found in breast milk, dairy produce and coconut oil.
Many experts believe that Alzheimer’s could be linked to problems with the brain cells using glucose as a fuel. In fact, some people even named it ‘type 3 diabetes.’ Without food for energy, the brain cells die. But fats can also be burned as fuel. They are broken down into ketones, which are easily taken up and used by the brain cells. MCT are very easily burned to make ketones, which can fuel the brain cells.
One experiment showed that just one serving of oils helped improve the memory and thinking of half the people taking it. More investigations are being done, but in the meantime choosing coconut oil for cooking and a little full-fat milk or yoghurt is unlikely to cause harm.Sadly, there’s still no cure for most of the common causes of dementia. However, there are ways of slowing down the decline, improving function and boosting your loved one’s quality of life.