Dementia – The New evidence from UCL

What is it? 

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders – conditions affecting the brain. There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.  Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.

Symptoms of dementia can include:

Memory problems: People with dementia might have problems retaining new information. They might get lost in previously familiar places and may struggle with names. Relatives might notice the person seems increasingly forgetful, misplacing things regularly. However, we all forget a name or face once in a while and this is nothing to worry about. If it happens on a frequent basis, it’s advisable to visit the GP who can check why it may be happening..

Cognitive ability i.e. processing information:  People with dementia may have difficulty with time and place, for example, getting up in the middle of the night to go to work, even though they are retired. Also, their concentration could be affected. There may be a difficulty when shopping with choosing the items and then paying for them. For some people with dementia the ability to reason and make decisions may also be affected. Some people with dementia get a sense of restlessness and prefer to keep moving than sit still; others may be reluctant to take part in activities they used to enjoy.

Communication: People with dementia may repeat themselves often or have difficulty finding the right words. Reading and writing might become challenging. They might experience changes in personality and behaviour, mood swings, anxiety and depression.  People with dementia can lose interest in seeing others socially. Following and engaging in conversation can be difficult and tiring, and so a formerly outgoing person might become quieter and more introverted. Their self confidence may also be affected.

Dementia can be seen as a combination of one or all of the above symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more symptoms, which have been occurring for a while and are progressively getting worse, then please arrange a visit to the GP. There are many other reasons someone might be experiencing confusion or memory problems, so it is best to get them checked out and treated if necessary.

Rates of dementia in the UK

Dementia is a global concern but it’s most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age. The Alzheimer’s Society (2015) reports over 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK today. Of these approximately 42,000 are people with young onset dementia, which affects people under the age of 65.  As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia. It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million. Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.

Is there a way to protect yourself from Dementia?

If you suspect that you or someone you know is showing signs of dementia, a visit to the GP is the first step. While some people are more likely than others to develop dementia, there are steps you can take to protect yourself, according to a new Study from University College London (UCL). The study summary is reproduced below with the kind permission of UCL and the authors: 

Physical fitness is associated with better cognitive performance in older adults with dementia, according to a new study from UCL.

The positive effects were found to be independent of past levels of exercise and illness duration, suggesting it’s never too late to benefit from good levels of physical fitness, even after the onset of dementia.

For the study, published recently in Frontiers in Public Health, researchers used a range of different cognitive tests including verbal fluency and memory tasks, alongside questionnaires on physical fitness and lifestyle to examine 30 adults with dementia and 40 adults without. Participants were over 65 and living in England.

The researchers found that physical activities such as lifting things, ability to balance, taking a brisk walk or stairs instead of lifts improved the ability to plan, organise and remember things – which are cognitive functions known to deteriorate with dementia.

“Our paper provides empirical support for the cognitive benefits of interventions promoting physical fitness for individuals with dementia. We understand that living with dementia poses many challenges to individuals and their families and the idea of improving their physical fitness may seem like an unachievable target. However, we encourage increased  physical fitness in any way, even what may seem like minor steps,” said the lead author of the study, Alice Hollamby (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health).

“Even just helping out around the house or in the garden, taking a short walk or swim, lifting things from a seated position could play a big part in slowing the progression of dementia.”

The research suggests that a possible explanation for why adults who demonstrated increased levels of fitness performed better on cognitive tests is because physical activity stimulates blood circulation in frontal-striatal circuits (neural pathways that connect frontal lobe regions with the basal ganglia in the brain) helping to improve cognitive function. Previous animal studies have also suggested that aerobic exercise increases the blood level supply and the growth of new neurons in the brain leading to enhanced cognitive performance. 

Co-author on the paper Dr Eddy J. Davelaar (Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Birkbeck) said: “We all know that we should embrace a healthy lifestyle to strengthen our physical and mental well being. However, this is not to say that when one develops dementia, all hope is lost. Our findings suggest that prior levels of physical activity did not influence the association between cognitive performance and physical fitness. This means it is never too late to start.”

“In addition, when reclassifying all participants according to health status and physical fitness level, most of the people with dementia and high fitness levels were misclassified as cognitively healthy. We are looking at extending this work to incorporate additional measures of physical and cognitive fitness, as well as the impact of age appropriate interventions.”

The researchers highlighted that dementia and cognitive impairment cost the UK economy approximately £26 billion per year. The number of people with dementia in England and Wales has been projected to increase by 57% from 2016 to 2040, primarily because of extended life expectancy. Finding ways to slow its severity and progression could have life changing effects for the 850,000 people currently estimated to be living with dementia in the UK.

Senior author of the study, Dr Dorina Cadar (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) added: “Dementia is such a cruel disease which causes confusion and disorientation to the sufferer and enormous distress to their families and loved ones. Our study has helped to identify risk factors that could modify the rate of cognitive deterioration and disease progression. It is very interesting to observe that the level of physical fitness could hamper the progress of cognitive deterioration in individuals with different stages of dementia. This gives us hope that ensuring a reasonable level of physical activity and optimal fitness could bring extra years of cognitive spark to those with dementia.”

So what does that mean for you? 

Put simply, if you start (or indeed continue) exercising you will reduce your chances of suffering from dementia. And if you are destined to be a victim of this awful disease (my dear Grandmother developed Alzheimer’s, so I may be at increased risk) exercise will slow the onset, symptoms and severity of the disease. 

Even mild to moderate exercise has benefits. And activities like BootCamp, which involve Strength Training, Coordination, HIIT, Cardio and Flexibility are ideal to keep your Body and Mind Healthier. 

If you haven’t been to BootCamp yet, or if you’re not been for a while – just turn up and join in – there’s no need to book. And Everyone gets a Free Trial, even if you’ve had one before. So what are you waiting for?

See you at a Workout soon!

Reproduced with the kind permission of UCL.

Felix

Felix

Founder

Captain Felix Deer joined the Army in 1985 and served in a number of Training Officer roles, qualifying as a Unit Fitness Officer in 1986. Since leaving the Army in 1994, Felix has sold property, built houses and flown airliners for a living, but has always maintained his keen interest in Fitness.