Category Archives: Dementia Prevention: International Campaigns

What is ‘cognitive reserve’?

What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia

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Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities can help build your resilience to cognitive decline.
Gene Wilburn/Flickr, CC BY

Michael Ridding, University of Adelaide

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in areas of cognitive function – such as memory, reasoning and verbal ability. We also have a greater risk of dementia, which is what we call cognitive decline that interferes with daily life. The trajectory of this cognitive decline can vary considerably from one person to the next.

Despite these varying trajectories, one thing is for sure: even cognitively normal people experience pathological changes in their brain, including degeneration and atrophy, as they age. By the time a person reaches the age of 70 to 80, these changes closely resemble those seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Even so, many people are able to function normally in the presence of significant brain damage and pathology. So why do some experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, while others remain sharp of mind?

It comes down to something called cognitive reserve. This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology. To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.

Evidence shows the extent of someone’s cognitive decline doesn’t occur in line with the amount of biological damage in their brain as it ages. Rather, certain life experiences determine someone’s cognitive reserve and, therefore, their ability to avoid dementia or memory loss.

How do we know?

Being educated, having higher levels of social interaction or working in cognitively demanding occupations (managerial or professional roles, for instance) increases resilience to cognitive decline and dementia. Many studies have shown this. These studies followed people over a number of years and looked for signs of them developing cognitive decline or dementia in that period.

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in cognitive function, such as memory.
from shutterstock.com

Cognitive reserve is traditionally measured and quantified based on self reports of life experience such as education level, occupational complexity and social engagement. While these measures provide an indication of reserve, they’re only of limited use if we want to identify those at risk of cognitive decline. Genetic influences obviously play a part in our brain development and will influence resilience.

Brain plasticity

The fundamental brain mechanisms that underpin cognitive reserve are still unclear.
The brain consists of complex, richly interconnected networks that are responsible for our cognitive ability. These networks have the capacity to change and adapt to task demands or brain damage. And this capacity is essential not only for normal brain function, but also for maintaining cognitive performance in later life.

This adaptation is governed by brain plasticity. This is the brain’s ability to continuously modulate its structure and function throughout life in response to different experiences. So, plasticity and flexibility in brain networks likely contribute in a major way to cognitive reserve and these processes are influenced by both genetic profiles and life experiences.

A major focus of our research is examining how brain connectivity and plasticity relate to reserve and cognitive function. We hope this will help identify a measure of reserve that reliably identifies individuals at risk of cognitive decline.

Strengthening your brain

While there is little we can do about our genetic profile, adapting our lifestyles to include certain types of behaviours offers a significant opportunity to improve our cognitive reserve.

Activities that engage your brain, such as learning a new language and completing crosswords, as well as having high levels of social interaction, increase reserve and can reduce your risk of developing dementia.

Regular physical activity increases cognitive reserve.
Jenny Hill/Unsplash, CC BY

Regular physical activity also improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of dementia. Unfortunately, little evidence is available to suggest what type of physical activity, as well as intensity and amount, is required to best increase reserve and protect against cognitive impairment.

There is also mounting evidence that being sedentary for long periods of the day is bad for health. This might even undo any benefits gained from periods of physical activity. So, it is important to understand how the composition of physical activity across the day impacts brain health and reserve, and this is an aim of our work.

The ConversationOur ongoing studies should contribute to the development of evidence-based guidelines that provide clear advice on physical activity patterns for optimising brain health and resilience.

Michael Ridding, Professor, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dementia, prevention & our children

There are 23 million people living with dementia in the Asia Pacific Region in 2015, costing the region a whopping US$185 billion. Little education exists on dementia for our children aside from countries such Australia, Japan, with some children attaining information in countries such as Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and China. However, there is nothing in the national curriculums to prepare children for Dementia or help children to fully understand  the need of dementia inclusive enabling communities or the preventative measures required for them to put in place at a young age to reduce their risk of dementia especially those brought about by lifestyle factors.

Ireland with slightly less than half the number of people living with dementia at approximately 20,000 people, and a population of 1.8 million and a land mass of 14,130 km2. Alzheimer’s Society reported that at least 30% of the young will know a person living with dementia. Last Wednesday it was announced on the Alzheimer’s Society website that Alzheimer’s Society and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment have included dementia in the school syllabus, making Northern Ireland the first to have a dementia friendly generation.

The resources are also available not just in English but also in the Irish language. Click here to view resources.

PRIMARY SCHOOL: The Archie Project from Reminiscence Learning has created a unique and innovative intergenerational awareness project to reduce the stigma associated with dementia. They believe that by engaging with young children they are dispelling the fear of dementia and changing the attitudes of our workforce for the future, providing education to support early diagnosis. Archie’s Story follows a scarecrow with dementia on his journey from exclusion to inclusion. The accompanying Archie workbook goes on to help children understand how Archie’s state of wellbeing improves by being understood, loved and included — a simple concept but one that both children and adults can relate to. The Archie Project provide books, workbooks, assemblies, scarecrow parades, Archie-related activities, training, drama and recognisable merchandise so that everyone can connect with the Archie character and learn how to engage with people with dementia in their families and communities. Links between schools and care homes enable children to put their new dementia awareness into practice. By increasing their knowledge of dementia, the project gives them confidence to interact with residents during visits to local care homes, where they take part in shared activities such as singing, gardening activities, coffee mornings, shared lunches, snooker, craft activities, tea dances and storytelling. Archie mascots encourage conversation and engagement with people at all stages of dementia. For more information visit www.reminiscencelearning.co.uk/archie (Source Alz Soc Youtube)

The promotion of dementia awareness not only helps us to create a better multi-generational dementia inclusive society but for our children, it will help them better understand the need for education and the impacts of negative lifestyle choices. A study based on a Comparison of the Prevalence of Dementia in the United States in 2000 and 2012 published in JAMA internal Medicine on the 21st November indicated that education appears to be a protector against dementia. Dr Kenneth Langa theorises that education “actually creates more, and more complicated, connections between the nerve cells so that you’re able to keep thinking normally later into life.”

In addition, Director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research in the National Institute on Aging, John Haaga adds that “Education can not only change the brain, it can change your whole life… It affects what kind of work you do, of course. It also affects who your friends are, who you’re married to, whether you’re married. All aspects of life are affected by educational attainment.”

When children learn about dementia and the brain, they will also learn about the risk factors which will help them to adhere to healthier lifestyle choices. According to Dr Alina Cohen, “factors such as adhering to a healthy lifestyle including a diet that is rich in essential nutrients, regular exercise engagement, and having an adequate cardiovascular profile all seem to be effective ways by which to preserve cognitive function and delay cognitive decline.” This study by York University presented evidence that the delay of dementia is connected with healthy living which in turn aids higher brain function. On a whole, our children will understand the importance of education, strategies to building cognitive resilience and understand the need for a healthy lifestyle for a healthy brain. There are a whole lot more pros than cons in this picture and policy makers should really sit up and start using their brains to look at how this can be implemented. Students will be able to understand the effects of stress on the brain, the importance of prevention and help-seeking behaviours especially in the areas of anxiety and depression. On a systemic level, this will create not only a friendlier, integrated and healthier multi-generational society but one that in the future may potentially see a reduction in healthcare spending as a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices.

SECONDARY SCHOOL: In the summer of 2012, Stoke Damerel Community College was invited to become one of 21 Pioneer Schools as part of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia. The school took a unique approach to dementia education, placing it across the curriculum into as many subjects as possible and endeavouring to work in partnership with their community and local and national organisations. They placed emphasis on creative processes and outcomes, intergenerational contact and active learning. Subject leaders were actively engaged in determining the shape of dementia education in their own subjects. Some of the most successful projects at the school were those that involved creative ways of working and intergenerational activities. For example, as part of the PE curriculum, people with dementia visited the school to play croquet with year 7 students. For more information visit http://www.sdcc.net (Source Alz Soc Youtube)

In addition to Primary and Secondary school, Scout groups have also joined the cause On such program is A Million Hands a program that supports 4 main social issues, dementia being one of the four that have been selected by the young. The objective is to empower and enable the young and the youths to tackle these issues head on and have the courage to make a change. In the areas of dementia, Scouts may find themselves helping people with dementia to fight isolation or helping with awareness by teaching people to spot signs and symptoms of dementia.They may work to try and work to make communities more accessible and even work to campaign for a cure and improve the lives of people with dementia.

Dementia as part of the educational curriculum could well be a means to improve not just the future of our children but perhaps the society as a whole.

10 ways to love your brain

A quick and easy infographic that provides sound advice from Alzheimer’s Association (USA) on what you can do to love your brain! 😀

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Probiotics and Alzheimer’s Disease

Good news for a lot of us in Asia whose probiotics drinking habits may be a daily run of the mill affair. From a young age, my parents would bottle me up with a small bottle of Yakult or Vitagen. These days if you walk into any 7-Eleven in Singapore, Korea, Japan or Taiwan you should be able to find a yoghurt drink rich with probiotics or just a probiotic supplement. Most of us in Asia would at least have heard of Lactobacillus acidophilus from our Yakult ads on television growing up.

New research published in the renown journal, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience have shown that our daily dose of probiotics may have a positive impact on cognition. More research has to be carried out of course given this study is relatively new. The research, a randomised, double-blind controlled study conducted with 60 people living with dementia within a 12 week period. According to the study the participants consumed 200ml of probiotic milk daily containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus fermentum.

Below is an infographic from the Internation Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics.

Looks like our recommended daily dose of probiotics may be doing us more good after all.

Reference:

Elmira Akbari, Zatollah Asemi, Reza Daneshvar Kakhaki, Fereshteh Bahmani, Ebrahim Kouchaki, Omid Reza Tamtaji, Gholam Ali Hamidi, Mahmoud Salami. Effect of Probiotic Supplementation on Cognitive Function and Metabolic Status in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized, Double-Blind and Controlled Trial. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2016; 8 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00256

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnagi.2016.00256/pdf

Brain Health is the new Heart Health

A great video that touches on the importance of brain health and how it’s really the new heart health of today.

The video also provides some tips on improving brain health such as

  • Sleep
  • Reduce Stress and Anxiety
  • Improve Diet and Nutrition
  • Improve Physical Exercise
  • Improve Cognitive Exercise

brain-health

 

ABCD of dementia

A simple video by Dementia Friendly Singapore on the signs and symptoms of dementia utilising the acronyms ABCD.

A – Activities (difficulty/indifference regarding daily activities or activities of interest)

B – Behavioural Changes

C – Cognitive Decline

D – Disorientation

App by Hong Kong Centre for Positive Ageing

Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing Hong Kong has created an app in Mandarin to help people understand dementia at the click of a button. iTunes Website: Click here to go to page this is also available on Google play Click here to go to page. Check out the video below to find out more.

 

描述

腦退化症資訊、健腦遊戲、照顧貼士,全部盡在「腦退化一按知」!

知識寶庫
由甚麼是腦退化症(Dementia)、治療方法、照顧技巧,到處理情緒及行為徵狀的貼士,全都收錄在知識寶庫中,讓你一機在手,有如錦囊隨身。

健腦遊戲
本程式內的遊戲有趣又不限時,你可以和家人輕輕鬆鬆地一起玩,一邊健腦,一邊歡度快樂時光。

位置回報
你可以在家人的手機上安裝此程式,需要時透過電郵得知他/她的位置,讓你有需要時更容易找到他/她。

我的位置
你的家人可以透過此程式找到自己的位置,方便他/她在社區內生活。

一鍵通話
你的家人可以透過此程式輕鬆簡單地聯絡你或其他家人,不用再另外從通訊錄尋找。

想知道更多腦退化症的相關資訊及照顧技巧,請瀏覽賽馬會耆智園網站http://www.jccpa.org.hk 及耆智同行網站http://www.adcarer.com.

jc