The statistics relating to “Dementia” are well known. Current numbers in Canada are relatively high (about 750,000 Canadians suffer with Dementia and roughly 25,000 are diagnosed annually with it) and are forecasted to rise in the coming years.
What is also fairly well known is that there are different types of Dementia. Some Canadians suffer with more quickly advancing forms of Dementia. Others live with Dementia many years, and may pass away from something different (such as Cancer or Cardiac disease).
The cost of care of Dementia patients in Canada is estimated to be $12 billion annually. That excludes the cost of drugs.
Understandably, therefore, there are abundant studies, across the world, into various aspects of the Disease and it is worth reviewing some of them. I hope readers find this of some use.
It appears that in middle age, sleep is more important than previously understood. In the Scientific Journal Nature Communications, a study published in April found that a person sleeping less than 6 hours per night significantly increases their risk of contracting Dementia. The study went over 25 years, with about 8,000 participants. At age 50, 60 and 70, persons averaging less than 6 hours of sleep had a 30% higher risk of contracting Dementia (independent of demographic, behavior and mental health factors). Severine Sabia, the lead author of the study, told the Wall Street Journal:
“Even though we can’t say sleep duration has a causal impact on dementia, it would be good to encourage good sleep hygiene”
Experts who analyzed the study, noted that it was done over a long period of time. Also, perhaps because a fairly large number of people participated in the study, reliability of the findings is high.
Advanced technology allows our vehicles to tell us when we are not driving properly. A group of American researchers believe that changes in driving behavior may be an early sign of Dementia.
Their project, known as The Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongRoad), examined 2,990 drivers between the ages of 65 and 79, in 5 cities in the United States. Each vehicle was fitted with a data collection device that recorded detailed driving information.
Over a period of 3 years, researchers followed up with drivers at the one year and 3 year marks.. An in person assessment was done at the two year mark. Researchers also reviewed each participant’s state driving record and their medical records were reviewed annually. Demographic factors such as age, sex and education were considered.
Over the study period, 31 drivers were diagnosed with Dementia and another 33 with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). When examining demographic factors and driving behavior, the research data proved 88% accurate. Though age was the most important Dementia predictor, other factors included race, percentage of trips made within 15 minutes of home, minutes per trip and the number of hard braking events.
The study was published in the medical journal Geriatrics. If it gets validated, the algorithms developed could become a tool for early detection (and management) of Dementia and MCI.
In Canada, 3.25 million people over age 65 have drivers licenses.
Lifestyle over genetics?
At the recent (2021) American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Conference, research presented shows that healthy lifestyle behaviors can lower dementia risk among persons who are higher risk due to family history of dementia.
Having a parent or sibling with the disease increases a person’s risk of contracting dementia by 75%.
The research team, lead by Angelique Brellenthin, Ph.D., analyzed data on 302,239 men and women aged 50-73, who completed a physical exam between 2006-2010 (as part of the United Kingdom Biobank study). All the adults were free of Dementia when the study began. They provided background information about their families and their lifestyles. Researchers then followed the participants for eight years, to see who developed dementia.
The adults at highest risk of developing dementia were those with family histories of the disease. However, following the lifestyle behaviors cut by half the risk of developing Dementia. Even following only some of the behaviors cut the risk.
Researchers suggested that for those people with family histories of Dementia, a proactive approach to lifestyle did reduce the probability of contracting the disease and the more lifestyle behaviors that were followed (including diet, sleeping, not smoking and keeping weight under control), the lower the probability of contracting the disease, despite the family history. So the right behaviors do affect brain health.
A recent article in the National Post referred to a Toronto pilot study (published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease) that concluded that low doses of radiation “vastly improved” behavior and cognitive abilities of Alzheimer’s patients.
The study involved only 4 patients. All were suffering from severe Alzheimer’s Disease. They received 3 instalments of low dose radiation at two week intervals. Their behavior was monitored before and after the treatments. Background information was collected from family, friends and caregivers.
Three of the patients showed significant improvement within days of their first doses. The daughter of one of the patients visited shortly after one of the doses. She reported:
“I had an amazing visit with my Dad this evening. I’m speechless. He was excited to see me. He spoke to me right away and gave me multiple kisses. My Mom agreed it’s been years since he has done this. Everyone is amazed”.
The study, though, to be reliable, will need to be done across larger clinical trials.
Because nobody knows with certainty whether they will contract this awful disease, keeping informed is useful. In addition, particularly for Baby Boomers, a discussion with a Doctor regarding behaviors and family history would be prudent.