While dementia is uncommon in young adults, cognitive decline can be slowed by keeping the mind active and in shape.
Luis Alfredo Villa López
Neurologist specializing in vascular neurology and intensive neurological care, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
If there are times when you have a word on the tip of your tongue but it slips away from you, and difficulties communicating become frequent occurrences, it’s time to ask your partner or close relatives to look for the warning signs of reduced brain function that could lead to dementia. The latter, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, “describes a set of symptoms that affect memory, thought and social skills to such an extent that it interferes with everyday life”.
And that’s the key: problems that change your habitual way of life, like getting lost when driving, difficulties making plans, changes in coordination and motor functions, confusion and disorientation. All of these are reasons to visit a specialist.
According to Luis Alfredo Villa, a neurologist specializing in vascular neurology and intensive neurological care, the condition usually affects people over the age of 65. Nevertheless, some cases occur in adults aged between 50 and 60 or below (known as early-onset or premature dementia), although its prevalence is low: only 5-10% of cases of dementia affect this age group.
The most common symptom is memory loss, although there can also be changes in individual conduct and behavior. “People become strange, different and paranoid, and lacking in concentration. They start to think the children or partner they have spent their entire lives with are stealing from them, for example, and they have hallucinatory episodes”, Villa explains.
While the management of dementia varies according to the type, a first step is to seek to regulate behavior and conduct so that the symptoms are not exacerbated. This also applies to cerebrovascular dementia, when damage occurs to blood vessels that results in neuron loss or death. “There is still no curative therapy for it. Studies and tests have been carried out with medicinal plants such as ginkgo biloba, vitamin E and B-complex vitamins, and even anti-inflammatories and a number of chemical substances, but so far none of them have been shown to offer any kind of protection”, the specialist notes.
Not all kinds of dementia are the same
People tend to feel fearful when they forget things and see it as a sign of some form of dementia. Villa explains that this is not necessarily the case; to be certain, a medical assessment and the relevant tests must be carried out, as the issue could be caused by other factors such as a vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid gland disorders or blood infections. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. According to the WHO, between 60% and 70% of cases of impairment occur due to this neurodegenerative condition, whose causes are still being studied.
In order to form new brain cells, the brain must be exposed to change, variety and challenges. In the words of Dr. Villa, keeping stress levels low and having a range of intellectual interests through reading and conversation contribute to the goal of slowing cognitive decline, as do implementing an exercise or sports routine and adopting a diet low in fat and carbohydrates and high in vegetables, grains and fruit. Good sleep and rest habits are vital for recovery and memory. •
Techniques available to all
- Traveling: solving problems in unfamiliar environments and planning new routes forces the brain to leave its comfort zone and results in accelerated learning.
- Listening to music: learning to play an instrument is a challenge for the mind and is also a source of pleasure that encourages the release of dopamine, which brings a feeling of wellbeing.
- Playing a game of chess: games of strategy challenge the mind to find clearer pathways in less time in order to achieve a goal.
- Sharing a conversation: recounting the plot of a film or book forces you to reconstruct a story and activates curiosity, putting cerebral connections into action.
- Making mental maps: to solve a problem or find a solution to something, this methodology helps to assemble related ideas and makes it possible to reach a decision quickly.
- Looking up new words: Knowing the meaning of a word compels you to make connections. Dictionaries are fantastic tools for finding synonyms.
- Learning a language: applications like Duolingo assist you in learning a new language, with daily rewards and targets. Listening to a podcast in your new language also helps.
- Changing your routine: taking a different route around the block or using different public transport challenges the brain and forces it to resolve issues, thus keeping it active.