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Progressive dementia: Improving your quality of life

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November 23rd, 2015

Last month, I wrote about how not all memory loss is dementia and not all dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. This month, let’s explore what we can do to prevent and even treat conditions associated with memory loss and signs of dementia.

To review, dementia is really just a descriptive term for a group of symptoms that can include difficulty with learning and retaining new information; finding words; handling cognitive tasks that used to be easy; finding your way in familiar places; and also managing social settings. Using the term dementia means that the cognitive loss represents a change, which often affects everyday living. 

While memory loss is common among seniors, there is much you can do to prevent dementia. Number one on the list is regular physical exercise. Exercise has been shown in numerous studies to improve your quality of life, lift your mood, improve your strength, and provide opportunities for social interaction. Emerging research shows that exercise may actually slow cognitive decline. 

Dementia can also be prevented by reducing cardiovascular risk through controlling diabetes and hypertension, and stopping smoking. It is also important to avoid medicines that impact memory; this can be done by careful review with your physician. Staying socially active, pursuing lifelong learning, and getting enough sleep also help keep you cognitively fit.

Slowing the progression

All these measures are healthful for mind and body but will not prevent dementia for one and all. If you or a loved one has dementia, there are steps you can take to slow the disease’s progression, improve quality of life, and reduce the burden on family and caretakers. Physical exercise programs can help maintain functional independence, reduce falls, and help mood and cognition. Occupational therapy focused on training patients and caregivers in the use of aids, coping behaviors, and techniques have been associated with improvement. Medications and some vitamins may help, and it is important to review these with your physician. Finally, practicing tasks designed to improve performance in specific areas of mental functioning, such as mnemonics, computerized recall devices, or note taking, may be of benefit. 

As with any disease process, early detection is vital. If you are experiencing a noticeable increase in “senior moments” or having other dementia symptoms, please visit your physician. You don’t necessarily need to see a neurologist or specialist. Your primary doctor can begin the process by reviewing your medicines, ordering lab tests or brain imaging studies, or administering standard memory function tests. Receiving a diagnosis of dementia does not have to be devastating; you are not alone and there is much you can do. Your doctor can help ease your concerns and assist in getting you the services and support you need.

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