My grandmother had dementia before she died. My mother also has dementia. I’m very worried about myself since it runs in my family. Is dementia hereditary?
I have good news for you. Most types of dementia are not hereditary and are not passed down the family. It may seem like a coincidence that so many of your family members have dementia, but you don’t have to worry that you will inherit it.
What types of dementia are there?
There are more types of dementia than most people think. Dementia itself is not a disease – it is actually a group of symptoms involving loss of memory, thinking and social abilities that can be attributed to many causes.
Dementia is caused by the damage of nerve cells in some areas of your brain. This is why different people express dementia differently, depending on which area of the brain is affected.
Dementias are grouped into progressive dementias, other disorders linked to dementia, and dementia-like disorders that are reversible.
I never knew there were so many types of dementia! What do you mean by progressive dementia?
These dementias worsen over a period of time. They unfortunately, are not reversible.
The commonest progressive dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. It usually occurs in people aged 65 and older. No one knows its cause, but there are many protein plagues and nerve tangles in the brains of patients who have it.
The second commonest is Vascular dementia, which is caused by damage to the blood vessels that supply your brain. This can be due to strokes or mini-strokes, and other blood vessel conditions.
Then there is Lewy body dementia, named after some abnormal clumps of protein in the brain.
There is also Frontotemporal dementia, named because the frontal and temporal lobes of your brain are affected. In addition to memory loss, you may get a personality change and language problems because the frontal lobes are affected.
There is also Mixed dementia, which is a mixture of the above types.
What other disorders can give rise to dementia?
Parkinson’s disease patients can also develop dementia, as well as people who have had repeated brain injury, such as soldiers or boxers.
Then there are the reversible dementias that can be caused by infections, immune disorders,
thyroid problems, hypoglycaemia, low minerals in your blood stream like salt, dehydration, not having enough vitamins, alcohol, brain tumors or hematomas – basically, anything that can affect your brain for a short period.
These can be reversed if you treat the cause, such as stopping your alcohol drinking, getting enough vitamins, drinking water to reverse your dehydration, etc.
I’m afraid of getting the progressive dementia types. I read on Facebook that scientists are having a breakthrough in preventing dementia now. Is this true?
Getting older itself is the biggest risk for getting dementia. But, it has been found that there are many things you can do to stave it off for as long as possible, or not even get it at all.
Remember, there are plenty of people over the age of 90 who are still actively functioning such as our Prime Minister.
But scientists have discovered that to stave off dementia, the best thing you can do is to be physically active.
Even 10 minutes of exercise each time is good for you. The worst thing you can do at any age is to sit down for too long.
Realistically, every week, you should aim for:
* 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or riding a bike, or
* 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, fast swimming or Zumba
* Resistance/strength training twice a week
You should also aim to eat healthy, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Don’t drink or smoke. Remember, Vascular dementia is caused by mini-strokes in your brain.
Is it true that I should not retire at 55?
Yes. It’s not so much retiring as exercising your mind. Your mind is a muscle, and if you don’t use it, it will go to waste.
Even if no one will employ you because you have passed retirement age, you can exercise your mind by studying a new course or language, playing mah-jong or doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, playing card games, reading books or writing.
You also need to socialise. Go out with your friends. Join an exercise group. Partake in activities.
People who don’t socialise in their old age tend to have many problems, including dementia and depression.
You can also be a volunteer at shelters and homes. In addition to keeping active, you are helping to improve the lives of others. This will give you an incredible sense of fulfilment.