Physical and mental exercise fight the onset of dementia.
Physical and mental exercise fight the onset of dementia.

How to keep your brain healthy

WHAT have you done for your brain this month?

September is Dementia Awareness Month, which encourages us all to better understand what it is like to live with dementia, and create supportive communities where people with dementia can live a high quality of life with meaning, purpose and value.

The theme for 2016 is You Are Not Alone. This recognises both that there is help and support for people living with dementia and their carers, and that so many people are affected.

According to Alzheimer's Australia more than 353,800 Australians currently live with dementia.

Dementia is not any one specific disease, but a degenerative neurological syndrome which affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks.

And it scares us. Alzheimer's Australia research shows the only condition we fear more is cancer. We fear a diagnosis will be humiliating and that we will be discriminated against. As a result nearly a quarter of people surveyed indicated that they would delay seeking help for memory problems for as long as possible.

But attitudes are changing and there is help. The Toowoomba Dementia Support Centre Local Carers' Social Support Group has monthly meetings for its 35 families.

The group allows family members and friends of people living with dementia to form friendships and discuss common issues with others in similar circumstances.

"It provides information, practical and emotional assistance, a feeling of being understood, coping strategies and a reduced sense of isolation," said Alzheimer's Australia regional manager Annabel Buchanan.

"Asking for help and taking care of yourself is important for carers as the physical and emotional demands of caring for someone with dementia can wear people down."

For those of us in the 40-65 years age bracket, looking after the health of our brains is more important than ever. And it's not hard. Alzheimer's Australia has a five-step approach.

1. Look after your heart: Conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity can increase the risk of developing dementia, so have regular check-ups and give up smoking.

2. Do physical activity: Regular physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the growth of new brain cells. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days (even in 10 minute blocks).

3. Mentally challenge your brain: Scientists have found activities that involve thinking and learning help to build new brain cells and the connections between them, so take up a new hobby, language, sport ... anything really.

4. Follow a healthy diet: Your brain needs a variety of nutrients to function properly, including lots of vegetables, fruit, fish and low fat dairy and meat.

5. Get social: Mixing with other people helps to build new brain cells and strengthen the connections between them. Activities like dancing that combine being physically active, social interaction, and are mentally challenging provide even greater benefit.

For more information, contact the Toowoomba Dementia Support Centre on 45648893 or call the National Dementia Helpline 1800100500.

Early signs of dementia

The early signs of dementia can be subtle. Common symptoms may include:

. Progressive and frequent memory loss.

. Confusion.

. Personality change.

. Apathy and withdrawal.

. Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.

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