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Stop dementia in its tracks by staying healthy

Part III in our series on understanding Alzheimer's and dementia

As a caregiver, it's hard not to feel like you're looking in a mirror as a loved one slowly fades away with dementia or Alzheimer's.

As explained in yesterday's story in the Townsman about Alzheimer's and dementia, the genetic risk is not as high as you think.

According to the Alzheimer's Scoiety of Canada, on average five out of every 100 people aged 65 will get Alzheimer's disease and 95 people will not. For caregivers with a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer's, those rates change to 15 in every 100, meaning 85 people will not.

While the odds are lower than you may expect, there are other ways to prevent brain degeneration as you age.

Interior Health offers information on many ways to improve your brain function and keep healthier longer, with information obtained from The Alzheimer's Association (ALZ).

"When people think about staying fit, they generally think from the neck down," ALZ writes. "But the health of your brain plays a critical role in almost everything you do: thinking, feeling, remembering, working, playing — and even sleeping."

Dementias and Alzheimer's disease occur when messages between brain cells can no longer be delivered. Eventually those cells die off, causing the brain to shrink.

"Research has found that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections," according to ALZ.

The association offers several tips to keep your brain healthy and active:

• Stay curious and involved — commit to lifelong learning

• Read, write, work crossword or other puzzles

• Attend lectures and plays

• Enroll in courses at your local adult education centre, community college or other community group

• Play games

• Garden

• Try memory exercises

Physical exercise can also help significantly. ALZ suggests regular exercise, but it does not have to be strenuous. While your body is reaping the benefits, so is your brain. Exercise helps maintain good blood flow to the brain and encourages the growth of new brain cells. It can also reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. The second most common form of dementia behind Alzheimer's disease is Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke.

Preventing head injuries can go a long way to reducing your risk of dementias in the future. Wear a helmet, use your seatbelt and unclutter your home to avoid falls.

For more information on prevention of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, visit