Children learn early in life how important their brains are. By the time they've completed elementary school, they understand what the brain looks like and how it contributes to their ability to hear, see, smell, and think. They also learn early on about the problems that occur when brains "don't work right."
The older we are, the more important brain health seems to become. According to the Alzheimer's Society, dementia is the most feared health condition in the United Kingdom. In the U.S., twice as many people fear the loss of mental over physical abilities (CDC). Given the number of people with dementia (47 million worldwide) and the cost ($818 billion), this fear is justified... not only for us as individuals but also for families who care for their loved ones and for society as a whole (Lancet).
Research currently focuses on two fronts: cure and prevention. Unfortunately, no cure has as yet been discovered.
For those of us without dementia, however, there's progress on the prevention front.
So what can we do differently? This week, the Lancet Commission announced that more than a third of dementia might be preventable by reducing the following risk factors.
9% - Hearing loss, especially if you're middle-aged (45-65)
8% - Not graduating from high school
5% - Smoking
4% - Untreated depression
3% - Physical inactivity
2% - Social isolation
2% - High blood pressure
1% - Midlife obesity
1% - Type 2 diabetes
Together, these factors add up to 35% so the idea is... the more we can change, the more we can lower your dementia risk.
True, nothing in life is guaranteed. But it's good to know that when it comes to brain health, we CAN take some action to protect our brains from dementia.
NOTE: Since 1823, the British journal, The Lancet, has published articles related to science, medicine, and health. Click here to read the full text of the Lancet article. Click here to download.
If you're an older adult (age 60+) or caring for one, your most important doctor may be a geriatrician.
You're probably familiar with pediatricians, physicians who specialize in children's health. Pediatrics grew from recognition that children are not just small adults, but human beings growing into adulthood. Consequently, symptoms, treatments, and medications often differ from that of the adult population (Health Children).
Geriatrics, the treatment of older adults, has grown from the same concept: Older adulthood is also an unique stage of life. Whether or not we like it, older bodies are more likely to exhibit signs of wear-and-tear. When older adults don't feel well, symptoms, treatments, and medications often differ from a younger adult population.
If you're feeling like your age is impacting your health or the health of a loved one, it could be time to seek out a geriatrician. Geriatricians are physicians who are board-certified in internal or family medicine and who have completed additional training in older adult care. Many of their patients have complex medical issues requiring more time and care management. Quality of life is a major treatment consideration (AGS).
Two geriatricians worth following online:
Above all, you want a physician that understands aging and who puts quality of life on the front burner.
We've all experienced the complexity of the American healthcare system. Long gone are the days of simply scheduling an appointment, seeing the doctor, and paying the bill. Today, we're also dealing with insurance (if we're lucky), multiple healthcare professionals, multiple medications, technology, and an extended list of choices. Especially if we're not feeling well, sometimes it's just too much!
A new profession has grown out of this complexity: Healthcare Advocate (Johns Hopkins). For a fee, healthcare advocates like nurses and social workers can help understand condition and treatment options, work with medical teams, and resolve health insurance issues. Organizations like the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants provide consultant training and lists of their members.
In most cases, however, we don't need a professional because we're capable of advocating for ourselves and our loved ones. Many patients are already making moves in that direction. A recent report from Nuance indicates that 69% of patients visit the doctor with a list of questions in hand, 39% have consulted WebMD about their condition, and 20% bring data from a personal monitoring device to their appointments. Many patients also have an advocate (spouse, relative, friend, or caregiver that they trust)... as many as 70% of them according to Dr. Burton, Director of Geriatrics at Johns Hopkins.
Not sure how to advocate for yourself... or looking to increase your skills? Here are four basic strategies from the National Family Caregiver Association (now the Caregiver Action Network) that can help.