Essential truths about dementia
As our population ages, dementia will increase, so debunking its myths are essential in understanding the condition and lowering your risk.
As the Singapore population ages, the figures of those who will have dementia will continue to increase. Dementia is not just about simple forgetfulness and it is also not an old-age disease. Even those below 60 can get it. However, there are things you can do to lower your risk.
Ageless Online talks to Sng Yan Ling, deputy director of the Health Promotion Board’s Centre of Excellence for Healthy Mind, about this condition and to get some answers:
Can you share three myths about dementia and why they are untrue?
Here are three most common myths related to dementia:
Dementia is just about forgetfulness
Dementia is more than forgetfulness, although it may one of the most overt warning signs. Dementia affects a person’s ability to take care of himself/herself and live independently. The person with dementia experiences problems with planning tasks, trouble with making judgment and finds it increasingly difficult in communicating with others. It also leads to personality and behavioural changes. For instance, everyday tasks like taking a bath or dressing up may become increasingly challenging as a person with dementia may be confused with the steps or judgment involved, like showering before taking his/her clothes off.
Dementia is part and parcel of old age
Dementia is NOT a normal part of ageing although the risk of getting dementia increases with age. It can happen to anyone. Among the 1,500 new dementia cases that the National Neuroscience Institute received in the last three years, about 40 percent had young onset dementia, a form of the illness that strikes people under 60 years old.
Statistics from the National Health Survey 2010 showed that only one in 16 seniors aged 65 and above has dementia. Among those aged 75 and above, the risk increases to one in eight.
There is nothing I can do to lower my risk of dementia
It is possible to reduce the risk, or even delay the onset of dementia by adopting certain health and lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet and keeping yourself mentally-active and stimulated with activities and social engagement. In the case of vascular dementia, good management of chronic disease conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, contributes significantly to reduction of risk.
What are some current statistics of dementia in Singapore and the breakdown to Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia?
Dementia affects approximately 30,000 Singaporeans, and this number will more than double to reach 80,000 in 2030 as the local population continues to age. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, and accounts for 50 to 60 percent of dementia cases. Vascular dementia accounts for about 20 to 30 percent of all dementia cases.
Can you explain the difference between this vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Vascular dementia, also known as multi-infarct dementia, is caused by a series of small strokes that cause problems of blood circulation to the brain. The risk factors for vascular dementia include high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, history of stroke and diabetes. Hence, with healthy lifestyle choices and habits, vascular dementia is preventable.
Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, is a progressive, degenerative illness that affects the brain, in which the nerve cells of the brain are destroyed and the brain substance shrinks. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood. However, genetic factors are known to contribute to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
What are some symptoms of dementia and the difference between dementia and common forgetfulness?
Two of the most common dementia symptoms are:
Forgetfulness that affects day-to-day function
It is normal to sometimes forget lunch appointments, names, telephone numbers or birthdays of our loved ones but you may remember them later. A person with dementia may forget very often, particularly with regard to most recently learned information, making it difficult for them to process new information and often, they are unable to remember at all.
It is normal to temporarily misplace one’s wallet or keys once in a while. A person with dementia, however, may place items in unusual and often inappropriate places, like leaving an iron in the fridge or a watch in the rice cooker.
How can one delay the progression of dementia?
Although there is currently no cure for dementia, it’s possible to reduce the risk, or even delay the onset of dementia. By adopting certain health and lifestyle changes, we can control the risk factors of dementia.
Here are three lifestyle habits you can pick up to lower your risk or delay the onset of dementia:
Stay mentally active
- Read, write or play cards, crosswords or boards games. Learn a new language or a musical instrument.
- Be socially-engaged.
- Meet up for meals and activities with your family and friends. Volunteer, join a club, or participate in community events. Social activities involving physical and/or mental activities provide even greater benefit for reducing your risk of dementia.
Eat a healthy diet
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
- Take less sugar and salt, and choose food low in fat and saturated fat.
- Engaging in physical activities helps the blood flow to your brain and also reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, all of which are risk factors of dementia.
- Get active by brisk walking, dancing, or practising qigong.
Can you share some tips on how caregivers can help dementia patients cope with forgetfulness?
A person with dementia may forget things very often including recently learnt information and sometimes they do not remember them at all. They may also be confused with time and place, often forgetting where they are and how they got there.
Caregivers can help their care recipients by using memory aids such as memo notes, clocks and calendars. Establishing a regular routine can also be beneficial for persons with dementia.
Caregiving is a journey of resilience. While caregivers make choices, solve problems and manage challenging situations, it is important for caregivers to look after their physical and emotional health as well. For more information on caregiver self-care, log on to HPB’s elearning module at https://helm.hpb.gov.sg or get more on dementia by visiting www.hpb.gov.sg/dementia or calling HPB’s Dementia Infoline at 1800 223 1123.