31.10.2016 Yoga

Addressing Dementia

While our dementia risk increases with age, we can take important steps to avoid this frightening disease, says yoga teacher Jen Kaz

Dementia is a word we hear more frequently these days yet it probably needs clearer explanation. Dementia is the umbrella term used to describe a collection of neurological symptoms caused by a progressive decline in a person’s brain function.It’s a broad term used to describe the inability to carry out everyday activities.

In the pre-industrial days lifespans were shorter so the condition simply didn’t present as much as we see today. The fact that we’re living longer is the largest risk factor!

There are many types of dementia but the following are the most common:

Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common and affecting up to 70% of people with dementia

Vascular dementia, which is the second most common and caused by lack of circulation of blood to the brain

Front temporal dementia relates to behaviour that affects personality, emotion and behaviour

Lewy Body disease is degeneration and death of nerve cells in the brain.

Lifestyle and genes may affect your dementia risk. Genetic factors and lifestyle play a part in many age-related conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, osteoarthritis, late-onset diabetes and some cancers. But hereditary predisposition does not imply inevitability.

Diet and lifestyle can certainly play their part. We may not be able to do anything to alter our gene pool but we can certainly do something about our health.

But hereditary predisposition does not imply inevitability.

For example, keeping our weight down with a healthy diet low in saturated fat and lots of fresh leafy green vegetables and preferably raw, which seems to be the common denominator to best health, drinking alcohol in moderation (for less sugar) and regular physical exercise where we increase our heart rate, are all associated with lowering our risk of dementia, and many other sicknesses.

The University of Pennsylvania study published in 2010 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease states that the meditation Sa Ta Na Ma is becoming scientifically recognised as a powerful tool for preventing or stopping dementia and improving aspects of cognitive function (perception, thinking, reasoning and remembering), reducing stress levels and improving memory.I run meditation classes and this is one of the meditations my students love.

From personal experience my memory improved while practising this meditation daily for 12 weeks. SA TO NA MA clips are available on YouTube.

During 1907, Dr Alois Alzheimer investigated the brain of a middle aged patient Mrs Deter, who had previously been diagnosed with dementia and subsequently died. He noticed a shrinking of the outer layer known as plaques and another known as neurofibrillary tangles.

These plaques impair synapses preventing signals passing between brain cells. Tangles kill brain cells preventing the normal transport of food and energy around the brain cells, the region engaged in memory, language and judgment. The outer layer, or cortex, is generally affected first by the disease leading to short-term memory loss.

As the disease progresses to deeper parts of the brain long-term memory is lost.With time other brain functions become affected.

The most common symptoms are -

  • Lapses in memory and judgment
  • Reduced language skills
  • Taking longer to do routine tasks
  • Personality changes
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Vagueness
  • Loss of enthusiasm for previously enjoyed activities

Eventually, the disease leads to complete dependence and finally death. A person could live from three to 20 years with dementia, with the average time span seven to 10 years.

The term “younger onset dementia” is usually used to describe any form of dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65.

Dementia has been diagnosed in people in their 50s, 40s and 30s, and is much less common than dementia occurring after the age of 65. For this reason it can be difficult to diagnose, however the latest figures show that younger onset dementia affects approximately 25,100 Australians.

While cognitive ability is still available planning ahead is important. Financial decisions relating to bank accounts and other financial documents need to be made, along with arranging an Enduring Power of Attorney. This is a legal arrangement where a person has complete control over another’s finances. It is best to obtain legal advice before completion. Ensure your health professionals and financial institutions have a copy.

A guardianship board or tribunal is available to administer the affairs where there could be a possibility of family or carer dispute, or if there is no one available to take on the responsibility of a Power of Attorney.

Finally, it is important to write a will, and know where it is kept and the identity of your executor.

As yet, there is no cure available for dementia although a group of drugs called cholinergeric drugs appears to be providing some temporary improvement in cognitive functioning for some people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Australian Christine Bryden was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at 46 and re-diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia when she was 49. She wrote a book with this condition and offers a unique insight into her battle with dementia. Read her moving account Who will I be when I die?

Alzheimer’s Australia offers support on 1800 100 500.

Jen Kaz

Jen Kaz trained and taught yoga in London in 2008. In early 2010 she returned to Perth and began teaching QiYoga. www.qiyoga.org

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