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Combating Cognitive Decline in the Elderly

By November 16, 2018Dementia, How To Prevent

Dementia in some form will often afflict about 70% of all people who are above the age of 55. About 60% to 70% of those afflicted with dementia are cases of Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain deterioration which causes severe and permanent memory loss in an individual. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or many other types of dementia, but in current years, scientists and doctors have discovered new ways to prevent and combat mental deterioration and cognitive decline in the elderly, a few of which we have detailed in this article. Whether you are one of our EEOICPA/RECA home healthcare patients or a concerned loved one of an elderly relative, learn more about dementia, how it starts, and what we recommend to help reduce the risk cognitive decline in the elderly.

How Dementia Starts

Because there are several types of dementia, there are a variety of different causes that contribute to the overlying problem. In general, however, the biggest problem with most types of dementia is that the neurons in our brains begin dying off. Where two brain cells connect, they create a space referred to as the synapse, which is where memories are stored. When a brain cell deteriorates, that space where a memory is stored is then lost. While this often can result in the complete loss of a memory, if the experience or details of a memory involved a series of neural pathways, the memory can still be retained. The problem with dementia, however, is that many memories which are only stored in a few synapses are lost at a faster rate as brain cells deteriorate too quickly because of disease. This results not only in a loss of memory but sometimes even an ability to complete rudimentary functions, such as putting on clothing or remembering who family members are. Dementia, in short, is the result of a loss of brain cells that once stored vital memories that comprised a person’s life and experiences, and in effect, their personalities.

Things to Do to Curtail Dementia

There are many things that the elderly and families of the elderly can do to help promote memory retention and fight off the effects of dementia. Most of these are feasible for most people, but full cases of Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases may be too far out of reach for these suggestions. These do help to combat dementia before the full effects of memory and cognitive ability are beyond help:

  1. Importance of learning: Many people stop learning later in life. Either because they had little schooling or because a job prevented them from a continued education, seniors who do not read or keep learning new things in more formal academic settings often experience dementia at a much faster rate. Learning new things in any capacity creates new neural pathways that can help recall memories even when a person is experiencing faster rates of brain cell loss.
  2. Diet and Exercise: A healthy, balanced diet and appropriate exercise regime for the elderly can also be a key factor in helping prevent dementia and memory loss. Food and exercise are important parts of maintaining blood flow and helping cellular growth, both of which contribute to the promotion of healthy brain cells.
  3. Get Help Recalling: Elderly individuals who begin experiencing memory loss should surround themselves with people or family members who can help them remember important details and facts. For instance, if an elderly individual begins to forget family members’ names and faces, having a family member review these with them daily, as well as incorporate stories about the individuals, has been known to help reverse the effects of dementia and strengthen their ability to recall facts and details easier.
  4. Good Night’s Sleep: For Alzheimer’s specifically, plaques build up in the brain that prevent neurons from triggering memories. The only defense against plaque build-up in the brain is a good night’s sleep where the body is able to filter out these plaques. Getting in the habit of setting a routine sleep pattern early is important for brain function and can prevent some of the effects of dementia.
  5. Activating the Mind: In addition to learning, stimulating the mind in different ways is also important for the elderly. Reading new materials and books can create new neural pathways that help to recall memories. Writing is also good, such as keeping a journal, because it forces an individual to recall details and the two types of information input and output help to create more neural pathways. Doing puzzles of different kinds is also helpful, and involving all the senses can be of great benefit.

There are, of course, many different types of things that a person can do, but the overarching principle to dementia prevention is by and large creating new ways for a person to think and reason, which stimulates the storage of different memories and helps people maintain their sense of self in addition to keeping hold of other important functions.

Benefits of Starting Early

It is important to note that all elderly people should be taking steps early to prevent dementia. Once symptoms of dementia begin to surface, it is often more difficult to prevent further neural decay. Anyone who is interested in fighting off these effects should remember to keep their minds active and continually engaged in finding new ways of improving their memories if they want to avoid dementia later in life.

What We Do at UEW Healthcare

At UEW Healthcare and Four Corners Health Care, our professional in-home healthcare providers provide free healthcare to EEOICPA and RECA beneficiaries. While dementia is not an DOL EEOICPA or RECA qualifying illness, we work with the elderly all the time, including providing resources for all health topics relating to the elderly. For this and more information about our services, call us today.