As we get older, we become more susceptible to various conditions and illnesses. Yet some conditions traditionally associated with older people can actually strike at any age: arthritis for example. It’s true that the older you are, the more likely you are to develop cardiovascular disease; but eating well, taking regular exercise, keeping tabs on your blood pressure and cholesterol and throwing away your cigarettes helps to lower your risk.

Then there is dementia. This is the umbrella term for a collection of symptoms which include memory loss, difficulties with thinking and problem-solving, and the loss of ability to carry out daily tasks. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for two-thirds of cases.
“Alzheimer’s is caused by two proteins in the brain that don’t behave as they should,” says Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society. “An accumulation of these proteins causes damage to the brain cells so that they stop working properly; and eventual loss of the brain cells, which leads to the condition’s progressive nature.”

Understanding the symptoms

Of course, some memory loss is a normal part of the ageing process; but dementia isn’t normal. If you notice that you are behaving differently, have significant memory loss or have difficulty following conversations, then visit your GP and talk through your concerns. You can also call the Alzheimer’s Society helpline.

There’s no cure for dementia at present, although research is ongoing to find treatments to slow, stop or even reverse its effects. Some treatments are available for Alzheimer’s which may relieve some of the symptoms for a period of time — although these do not treat underlying causes, and do not work for everyone.

The jury is out that ‘brain training’ — keeping your mind active with puzzles and crosswords, for example — can have a beneficial effect on keeping Alzheimer’s at bay or slowing it in the early stages. “But we do know that there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing it,” says Dr Brown. “Don’t smoke, do exercise and follow a Mediterranean diet, with oily fish and green vegetables.”