Forget me not

Don’t forget to remember

Why it is important to plan ahead of the silent thief

16 Mar 2023
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Don’t forget to remember

As we age, our minds and bodies go through a natural decline. But for some, this decline is accelerated by a debilitating disease known as dementia. Busting the myth that only the elderly are affected, the number of younger individuals diagnosed with dementia is on the rise. The National Neuroscience Institute's (NNI) department of neurology reports that the average age of patients with young onset dementia is 55.3 years, with the youngest patient being just 46. Medically referred to as Young Onset Dementia (YOD), this condition typically occurs between the ages of 35-65 and results in cognitive disability and behavioral changes. The number of patients with young onset dementia has risen steadily, totalling 245 in 2019.

This haunting realisation reminds us that the merciless grasp of dementia knows no age, affecting all walks of life.

Genes matter, but not so much

One of the most common concerns among those affected by dementia is the possibility of inheriting or passing the disease to loved ones. But can dementia be passed down through the family? The answer is not as clear-cut as you might think.

There are two types of genes involved in the development of dementia: familial genes and risk genes.

Familial genes are single-gene changes that definitely cause dementia if passed down from parent to child. These genes are rare but do occur in certain types of dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and young-onset familial Alzheimer's disease.

On the other hand, risk genes only increase a person's chances of developing dementia and are more commonly found in families. These variants do not directly cause dementia, only a higher risk of developing it.

In the vast majority of cases, Alzheimer's disease is not inherited and the answer to whether or not dementia can be passed down remains a complex and nuanced one.

The unforgiving clock

Risk factors that influence the likelihood of dementia include age, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, smoking, high alcohol intake, depression, poor diet and low levels of cognitive engagement.

And the biggest risk factor of all is the passage of time itself – ageing. The risk of dementia heightens at 60 years old and is especially common in those aged 65 and above.

Ageing is a natural process that brings with it a host of changes and among those changes are health conditions. From cardiovascular diseases to diabetes, the various factors that can contribute to the onset of dementia are diverse and far-reaching.

Perhaps the most pronounced factor is physical frailty. This makes it more challenging for a person to stay active and engaged in life, leading to a decline in cognitive function.

Don't ignore the signs, understand why

Dementia can be a devastating reality for both patients and their loved ones. The confusion surrounding its symptoms and how it blurs the lines between normal ageing and decline, can make it difficult to understand and cope with.

The symptoms of dementia can range from struggles with everyday tasks such as paying bills or bathing, to more complex difficulties with communication and memory recall. Decisions become harder, and sometimes inappropriate social behavior may emerge.

Caregivers are often referred to as the "invisible second patients", grappling with the weight of their loved one's decline. They may feel socially isolated, experience heightened health risks, financial strain, and emotional distress. The bond that once brought joy now becomes a source of pain and heartache.

While dementia currently lacks a cure, the only solution now is to manage the symptoms, provide an environment that supports and stimulates the remaining brain function, and take steps to lower the risk of developing dementia.

Dementia, meet your match

Heard of the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet?

It's shown to lower high blood pressure, a risk factor for dementia. You can easily satisfy your omega-3 needs by indulging in two palm-sized portions of delectable and familiar options like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. It's no wonder fish is a staple in many Singaporean households!

This is just a start, but as simple as just switching up our diets, we can reduce our risk of developing dementia and preserve our cognitive health for years to come.

Extending the mind's lifespan

As dementia progresses, the mind's cognitive abilities deteriorate faster and daily activities become more difficult to manage alone.

Fortunately, by adopting a "brain-healthy" lifestyle, the risk of developing dementia can be reduced. Here are some simple, yet powerful, ways to get started:

1. Learn new skills

Keep your mind sharp by mastering a new language, or honing a new skill!

2. Challenge yourself with mentally stimulating activities

Playing strategy games, and doing other tasks that require you to work through a plan can help you keep your mind active.

3. Getting a good night’s sleep

A study revealed that sleeping on your back without proper head elevation for more than two hours per night increases the risk of dementia by almost four times! Sleeping with pillows or a foam wedge may help ease cognitive symptoms.

4. Managing your mental health

Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns are sometimes linked to cognitive decline. Talk to a therapist and find the right treatment or medications for you, if needed.

While ageing and the possibility of developing dementia and other critical illnesses becomes increasingly real, it's important to have a plan to provide care and support. Planning for the future, in terms of financial and the management of your affairs by appointing your lasting power of attorney (LPA) in the event that you lose your mental capacity is crucial. The cost of hiring a caregiver can add up, making it important to factor in these expenses. 

We are ready as a rapidly ageing nation, so let's do our own part and embrace a curious and proactive approach to our health and well-being!

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