PHS Editor and Harlequin Historical author Michelle Styles takes a look at how exercise can help with dementia.
One of the frightening things about dementia is that there is no cure and its seeming randomness of striking. Some of this may be because of its long incubation period. And little things you do or fail to do early in life can have consequences as you reach old age. It used to be thought that there was little anyone could do. Brains were set and the rate of decline a foregone conclusion. Thankfully no more!
In a very important study that was published earlier this month, Dr Kirk Erickson showed that regular moderate exercise can help regenerate the brain and delay the onset of mental decline. One very exciting aspect of the find is that people's brain are far less rigid in the way they behave than originally thought. They CAN respond. the brains in the exercise group actually grew slightly after exercise.
Moderate aerobic exercise such as walking is not the magic bullet which can cure dementia but it can slow the rate of decline down. If the rate of decline can be slowed or even stopped, it will make life much easier for sufferers and their families. The final stages of dementia are heartbreaking. Anything that can prevent people going into that is worthwhile to pursue.
Another recent study showed that dancing was very useful in preventing dementia. Of all the forms of exercise, dancing seemed to hold the most benefit and ballroom dancing is best. the study also showed that reading (35% reduced rate of dementia) and doing crossword puzzles at least 4 times per week (47%) helped. But it was dancing at 76% that helped the most. ( there is some research that shows that exercise in your 30s, 40s and 50s has a positive role to play -- I know I am very glad I dance almost every morning and that afterwards, I feel more mentally alert)
It is all about making connections within the brain. The more connections, the more stepping stones if you will, thoughts can use. Dancing and ballroom dancing in particular means you have to think and adjust your moves. It promotes a brain to muscle connection which may not be there with other forms of exercise. You have to be highly attentive to the possibility's or you will trip over your feet (or your partner's feet). It is that being open to the possibilities which helps promote intelligence. Creative thinking on your feet can help slow the rate of decline. Dancing can make you smarter!
There are things a person can do to first prevent dementia and secondly slow the rate of decline down. But they have to be motivated to do them. And encountering people with dementia and seeing how the world treats them should provide some incentive. Dementia creates a brick wall between the sufferer and the world. If we can slow down the bricks, the sufferer can have a better quality of life and be independent for far longer. It is about holding on to what you have got. Simply doing nothing is a very bad idea indeed!
Good nutrition also has a part to play and I will look at the nutrition connection next month.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance for Harlequin Historical. Her mother in law has dementia and entered a care home after a family crisis. These articles are Michelle's small attempt to educate people. You can read more about Michelle and her books on www.michellestyles.co.uk