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About Dementia

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Dementia - A Global Epidemic?

We face a looming global epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease as the world’s population ages.

Ron Brookmeyer, PhD, Professor in Biostatistics, Chair of the Master of Public Health Program, Bloomberg School of Public Health,

While retirement should be a time for enjoying the fruits of a lifetime of work, many people are needlessly robbed of a fulfilling retirement by not knowing how to care for their brains as well as their bodies.

Most people expect both brain and physical health to deteriorate as they get older. They see the onset of Dementia or Depression as an inevitable risk of increasing age that they are helpless to influence. Too many people are unaware that they can reduce the risks of such diseases ruining their retirement for themselves and their families.

The Need?

Financial security, suitable accommodation and physical health will not guarantee a good quality of life in retirement if you do not have a healthy brain. Dementia, Depression and Social Isolation are enemies that are alarming public health bodies worldwide. The financial costs are huge. The personal cost to families and relationships is incalculable .

1. Dementia

The number of Dementia sufferers is to double every 20 years.
It will rise from 35 million in 2010 to 65.7 million in 2030 and to 105 million in 2050. “Unchecked, Alzheimer’s will impose enormous burdens on individuals, families, health care infrastructures and the global economy.”1

According to statistics compiled by the Alzheimer’s Society UK:

  • There are currently 750,000 people with Dementia in the UK.
  • There will be over a million people with Dementia by 2021.
  • The proportion of people with Dementia doubles for every 5 year age group over 65 years.
  • 60,000 deaths a year are directly attributable to Dementia.
  • Delaying the onset of Dementia by 5 years would reduce deaths directly attributable to Dementia by 30,000 a year.
  • The financial cost of Dementia to the UK is over £20 billion/ year.

2. Depression

Depression affects 1 in 52 older people living in the community and 2 in 5 living in care homes.
Depression diminishes the quality of life in all age groups, especially in the older population. It brings the added risk of Dementia.

‘There appears to be an increased risk of Dementia in those with a history of depression although the relationship between the two is not clear.’3

3. Social Isolation

Social isolation contributes to the occurrence of both Depression and Dementia.
However it also pre-disposes older people to physical disease including obesity, diabetes and cardiac and circulatory disease.

The Solution

Ageing is not a disease, but Depression, Dementia and other illnesses are commoner as we age.
While diet and exercise are as important for a healthy brain as for a healthy body, the most important step a person can take to keep their brain healthy in retirement is to engage in Lifelong Learning. Learning something new, and developing what we already know keeps our brain cells stimulated and helps counteract the onset and risk of depression and dementia. It is a powerful way to keep the brain ‘Fit for Life’. It is also a great preventative against social isolation as the lifelong learner engages with others through learning.

Learning does not have to be the chore it might have been in school, when it is based on your individual abilities through enjoyable experiences and challenges.

In addition to combating diseases such as Depression and Dementia, there is a growing recognition that lifelong learning in the older generation has a vital role in raising the quality of life, which in turn promotes health and wellbeing.

The Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning was launched in September 2007 and reported on 17 September 2009. It was sponsored by NIACE, (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) which has taken the role of promoting this issue.

The following extracts are from the Inquiry:

‘The study reveals considerable evidence for the positive impacts of learning on health and well-being of people of all ages, and suggests it may have greater effect than health promotion campaigns. In Gloucestershire the adult education service also works in care homes for the elderly and in Nottingham learning advisers are working in three GPs’ surgeries prescribing learning programmes in place of pills.’

‘Research, carried out for the Government Office for Science by the New Economic Foundation, recommended learning as one of five daily activities of proven worth in promoting health and well-being.’

'There is a strong case for providing learning opportunities in subjects directly related to well-being, including Depression and learning disabilities. This does not mean offering ‘happiness training’ – yes, it really exists – nor dosing yourself with fish oil during tea breaks. It means getting the most from a broad range of learning opportunities.’

Anyone can do it, all can benefit!

It is never too late to start lifelong learning! The effects of learning on the brain are just as powerful when you start in your 80s and 90’s as in your 50’s and 60’s. In other words, the solution to a healthy brain in retirement is ‘Use it or lose it!’

What to do next

Read some of the other pages on this website to understand how the BrainFit Plan can help you, or a parent or relative.

Go straight to Login to complete your personal BrainFit Action Plan.

1 The World Alzheimer’s Report published by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) in 2010,
2 Adults In Later Life with Mental Health Problems, Mental Health Foundation quoting Psychiatry in the Elderly (3rd edition) Oxford University Press (2002).
3 Northern Ireland Dementia Strategy 2010 Draft Document