Dr Hilary lists the early symptoms of dementia
It is thought almost one million people in the UK are currently living with dementia.
And this number is set to continue rising due to an ageing population.
There are many types of dementia, which have been linked to different causes such as a build up of proteins in the brain, or reduced blood flow to the brain.
While dementia is often seen as something that occurs when you get older, research has shown that there are multiple lifestyle factors that can minimise or increase your risk.
One doctor explained the best ways to lower your likelihood of developing dementia in later life.
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In a piece written for the Daily Mail, Doctor Rob Galloway admitted dementia was the condition he “feared most” following his extensive career in healthcare.
Speaking candidly he said: “I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of patients with this awful condition, hollowed out by the decline in their cognitive abilities, change in personality and loss of independence, all of which effectively mean you die years before your body does.
“For their loved ones, it’s also horrific.”
He recalled a patient he met while he was a junior doctor who displayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – one of the most common forms of dementia.
At the time he believed this was a case of “bad luck”, due to genes causing excess protein to build up in the brain.
“But 20 years later, I’m now questioning what I was taught about the disease,” he said.
“Yes, there is a subset of Alzheimer’s which is highly linked to specific genes – and that causes dementia at a very early age. However, this makes up fewer than one per cent of cases.”
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While he acknowledged the existence of the breakthrough drug aducanumab, that can remove amyloid plaques from the brain, Dr Galloway said study results were “underwhelming”.
He continued: “At the moment, all we can say is that these drugs slow the decline in people with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s.
“They’re also expensive, and potentially have some very serious side-effects.
“But maybe we are targeting the wrong thing. What if amyloid is the smoke, but the fire that’s actually burning down your house is something else.”
The first issue that needs tackling, he said, is high blood pressure.
Dr Galloway said: “For years, we’ve known that high blood pressure was linked to a raised risk of dementia, but definitive proof was lacking.”
He cited a recent study by the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing in Australia, which proved a link between hypertension and dementia.
As part of the research, published in the JAMA Network Open, the team analysed data of more than 34,000 people from 17 existing studies.
It concluded that there was a 42 percent increased risk of dementia if you had untreated high blood pressure.
“That is an amazing finding and, for me, it finally put to bed the argument about the major role that hypertension plays in both causing dementia and worsening the symptoms once you have it,” the doctor said.
He shared one theory that hypertension can cause reduced blood flow to the brain, damaging the brain cells and causing the amyloid plaques to form.
Dr Galloway said: “Based on this understanding, other things that improve blood flow to the brain would also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.”
This idea was backed by a review of research, published in The Lancet in 2020.
This found that a lack of exercise raised the risk of dementia by 40 percent, while smoking, obesity and diabetes independently increased the risk by 60 percent.
Being exposed to air pollution also raised the risk by 10 percent.
As a result of this Dr Galloway said he makes sure to go running at least five times a week, checks his blood pressure regularly and has lost some weight.
Research has also shown that drinking alcohol can increase your risk of dementia.
Findings published in the British Medical Journal in 2018 showed that for every seven units above 14 a week, you increase your dementia risk by 17 percent.
Dr Galloway added: “Surveys show that people now fear dementia more than cancer.
“If that’s you, I think there’s a very positive message that you can significantly reduce your risk by doing a number of simple things: taking regular exercise, eating healthily (so you stay a healthy weight), not smoking, cutting back on alcohol and monitoring your blood pressure.”
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