How Do We Help Patients Reduce their Risk of Dementia?

Here’s something to note when helping patients reduce their risk of dementia: each year in the US, doctors diagnose around 3 million cases. However, dementia isn’t a disease, but a grouping of conditions that impair brain functions. These functions can include:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, with different types of damage causing different types of dementia. For example, vascular dementia is  caused by conditions that deprive brain cells of oxygen, such as a stroke. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with brain cell damage that prevents communication between the cells.  Dementia associated with aging largely affects those over the age of 60, and although there is no cure, various treatments can help with symptoms or slow progression.

However, new research is suggesting that certain lifestyle changes could help decrease the risk of developing dementia in old age.

New research published in JAMA shows that there may be a link between chronic or persistent pain and an increased risk for accelerated dementia. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco published results on a longitudinal study that followed patients for up to 12 years, and found that those who reported pain in the first two years of interviews were more likely to have a faster decline in memory performance as they aged and also had an increased risk of developing earlier dementia. While the study doesn’t establish a causal relationship, the authors theorized that the mental effort required to cope with chronic pain may decrease other cognitive abilities, accelerating the effects of dementia. The lead author, quoted in the New York Times, advocates clinicians to “be aware of the cognitive implications of a simple report of pain. It’s a simple question to ask, and the answer can be used to identify a population at high risk of functional and cognitive problems.”

Another study in Stroke established a link between dementia and diet soda. After controlling for variables among subjects, researchers found that both high levels of recent intake and high cumulative intake of artificially-sweetened or “diet” soda were associated with increased risk of stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Regular sugar-sweetened sodas were not found to have this effect.

Developments like these have contributed to an overall decrease in dementia diagnoses over the past few years, and give patients the opportunity to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk.

FEATURED IMAGE: by Abhijit Bhaduri CC by 2.0

3890 Total Views 5 Views Today

Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.