As our population ages, the impact of age-related illnesses increase as well as the cost to our health care systems and the care burden on family members and society.
Dementia is one such condition having a huge and increasing impact all over the world.
Rates are increasing rapidly everywhere and there is to date little that can be done to slow it.
In spite of much research and many attempts, we have yet to find a cure or even an effective medication to manage or slow the progress of this devastating illness.
In Canada, almost 750,000 people currently have dementia.
If numbers continue to increase as projected, 1.4 million people will have dementia by 2031.
Right now, this costs us $33 billion a year and that is expected to balloon to $293 billion by 2040.
In addition to health care costs, many of us are also caring for family members as they age.
Right now, one in five Canadians over the age of 45 are providing care to seniors.
That number will rise significantly as the baby boom generation gets further into the senior years.
For those currently in their 30s, there is a strong likelihood of eventually having to balance career, child care and caring for parents.
Though this care is unpaid, it also costs the economy in lost productivity and can result in increased stress and emotional burden for caregivers.
Fortunately, relatively recent findings do suggest some preventive strategies seem to help in dementia.
One in three cases of Alzheimer’s disease can be attributed to lifestyle factors that can be adjusted.
Some evidence suggests changes in the brain could begin up to 25 years before symptoms appear—meaning health choices in middle age can have an impact later in life.
Maintaining a healthy body weight and regular physical activity seem to make a difference.
One study predicts for each unit increase in body mass index at age 50, dementia symptoms appear about 6 months earlier.
Another study showed those who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week in mid-life had half the dementia risk of sedentary people.
Education is also protective and listed as the top modifiable risk factor for dementia worldwide.
Early and somewhat controversial research in Europe suggests some of these preventive efforts are helping to stabilize numbers developing dementia.
Studies in the United Kingdom and Spain show reductions in numbers of people over 65 who are living with dementia.
Fortunately, when it comes to getting more exercise, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and education, there are no down sides. These are positive steps we can all take that help us enjoy life at every stage—the bonus is they could also protect us as we age.