Professor Alistair Burns saw for himself the good work taking place across the hospital and community services we commission for those who have dementia and how awareness of the disease is being raised across the wider population.
During his stay, Professor Burns – the NHS’s National Clinical Director for Dementia – told us that dementia is now the most feared disease amongst older people. According to national research, two-thirds of people aged over 50 are scared of developing dementia, whilst just one in 10 are frightened of getting cancer.
Across the country, two thirds of people say they are living well with dementia but, worryingly, evidence suggests that 10 per cent leave their home just once a month or less. So we still have a lot to do.
One of my GP colleagues asked Professor Burns for his thoughts on how to help prevent the disease and he said “what’s good for your heart is good for your head”, which is excellent advice.
Keeping physically active is important for brain health as well as heart health. Research shows that regular exercise in middle-aged or older adults can improve thinking and memory, and reduce the risk of developing dementia. So here are some tips from the Alzheimer’s Association for you to follow.
- Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes, five times each week, with activity such as brisk walking or cycling. Work hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.
- High blood pressure in mid-life significantly increases the likelihood of developing dementia in later life. If you are over 40 years old you should get your blood pressure checked regularly and follow your GP’s advice to keep it under control.
- Don’t smoke. Research shows that smokers have a 50 per cent greater chance of developing dementia than those who have never smoked, but this risk can be significantly reduced by quitting the habit.
- Have a healthy balanced diet that enables you to maintain a normal body weight as this will reduce your likelihood of developing high blood pressure or heart disease. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet may help to reduce the risk of dementia.
- Research suggests that people who take part in activities that stimulate the brain – such as reading, learning and doing puzzles – are less likely to develop dementia. It’s thought that mental activity increases the brain’s ability to cope with, and compensate for, physical damage.
- Drinking light amounts of alcohol may protect the brain against dementia and keep your heart and vascular system healthy. Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units a day and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.