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This World Alzheimer’s Day (Sep 21), find out how your genes and lifestyle factors such as playing mahjong, doing squats (you read right), sleeping enough and good dental health can protect your brain from degenerative diseases.
As someone whose late grandmothers (both maternal and paternal) developed dementia in their later years, and has a parent I suspect is on the cusp of brain degeneration (but is yet to be diagnosed), I worry about my own mental health.
The question, "do I have dementia?", pops into my mind whenever I walk into a room and forget what it is I needed to do. I feel my face turning tomato-red each time I fumble to find the right words in a conversation. I can't Math when the bill comes and I need to split it more than two ways.
Dementia is a general term that encompasses a wide range of symptoms, including the memory decline, changes in thinking skills, language and behaviour, poor judgment and decreased focus that affect a person's ability to independently perform daily tasks.
Alzheimer's disease, on the other hand, is a specific brain disease and is the most common type of dementia. It is marked by abnormal proteins that tangle or clump into plaques within and between neurons. As the neurons die, the brain shrinks, starting in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory.
The other common types of dementia, according to Alzheimer's Disease International, include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia.
The statistics aren't encouraging. Neurological diseases such as dementia are the fifth leading cause of disability in Singapore. One in 10 people aged 60 and above has dementia, according to a 2015 study by the Institute of Mental Health. Already, over 100,000 people have dementia in Singapore and that number is expected to rise to 152,000 by 2030.
But there might be light at the end of the tunnel. "A growing body of evidence supports 12 risk factors that account for around 40 per cent of worldwide dementias, which consequently, could theoretically be prevented or delayed," said Associate Professor Ng Kok Pin, a senior consultant with National Neuroscience Institute's (NNI) Department of Neurology, who listed them (not in any specific order) as:
TACKLING MODIFIABLE RISKS
Other than the aforementioned 12 risk factors, I also couldn’t help but wonder about the other lifestyle factors I’ve read about that could potentially affect the brains of middle-agers like myself.
For instance, can missing out on sleep and using sleeping pills affect my risk profile? Should I join the aunties who have jio me to play mahjong? And what is it about squats being a brain-boosting move my colleague told me about (“I don’t know how squats help mentally but I have a perkier butt!”)? I haven’t even got to flossing when I caught sight of an article about acid reflux medication increasing my risk of dementia.
Should you pay mind to them? Read on to find out.
If you’re concerned about your heartburn meds, have a word with your doctor. Or do what Prof Lakshminarayan suggested: Take antacids instead, maintain a healthy weight and avoid late meals and foods that cause your acid activity to act up.