Here is the presentation I prepared for Cross Connections today on Dementia.

Cross Connections Lunch and Learn October 19, 2017:  Dementia

  1. Attitudes and Fears Regarding Dementia: An Open Discussion
  2. Are you afraid of experiencing dementia?  If so, why?
  3. What are your thoughts or feelings about people you know who have dementia?
  4. Strategies to Reduce the Risks and Experiences of Dementia

There are many strategies that have been shown to reduce the risk of dementia.  Some of these help all of our lives, and are more effective the sooner and more consistently we use them.

  1. Intellectual development:  In Aging with Grace, Dr. David Snowdon reported on his research with a large order of nuns.  The more nuns studied and read early in life and throughout their lives, the more resistant they were to dementia.  One nun who taught until she was 75 and remained very active until shortly before her death, and did well on cognitive tests until 6 months before her death at age 102, had a brain that normally would have been associated with severe dementia.  The more we use our brains early and throughout life, the more resilient they are.  It is never too late to learn a new language or hobby or skill or to read challenging books.  It is never too late to join a discussion group or join a challenging game.  Page 12, Dementia Connections, recommends learning something new, like a language.
  2. Social Interaction:  Our brains developed as we evolved as social creatures, and many of the brain’s abilities developed to help us function in social groups including language, group dynamics, and imagination/creativity.  Active social interactions help reduce the risk of dementia, and they help slow down the effects of dementia as it develops.  In Dementia Connection, Fall 2017, page 8, an article reported on a study that showed volunteering lowered the risk of dementia.
  3. Exercise:  A recent study found that 10 minutes of exercise that has us breathing hard enhances the development of blood vessels in the brain, both reducing the risk of dementia, and sometimes reversing early stages of dementia as the improved blood flow helps the brain maintain and heal itself.  Moderate daily exercise, such as walking or cycling, enhances blood flow, emotional well-being, and general functioning of the body including digestion, immunity, and elimination.  An article in Dementia Connections, Fall 2017, page 23, included a report on Brain in Motion.  Researchers found aerobic activity increased vigour and reduced the symptoms of dementia including depression and confusion.
  4. Diet:  In Aging with Grace, Dr. Snowdon and his research team found that fresh vegetables, especially green vegetables, were important to both overall health and mental health.  Dementia Connection on page 12 promotes the MIND diet (see attachment for more information).
  5. Various Health Issues:  (page 12, Dementia Connections) Check hearing – hearing loss is related to accelerated brain tissue loss.  Keep gums healthy.  Don’t smoke.  Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.  Protect your head (head injuries are related to development of scar tissue in the brain which is related to advancing dementia).
  6. Wanting to remain healthy and mentally alert:  If we do not value good health and mental well-being, we will not bother to do the above.
  7. Spiritual maintenance and development:  Valuing connection combined with prayer, reading, and communal spiritual practices supports 1 to 6 above.
  8. Responding as a Community

There are many ways in which the community helps reduce the risk of dementia and responds helpfully to people with dementia

  1. Prevention: wide variety of activities; outdoor spaces that are enjoyable and easily accessible along with trees; well-maintained roads and walkways to reduce risk of falls; benches and picnic tables where people can rest and comfortably enjoy being outside, even meet and talk to other people.
  2. Businesses: Calgary has the City of Calgary Age-Friendly Business program which established guidelines for businesses to be recognized as age-friendly. (Dementia Connection, page 5)

     The Brenda Stafford Foundation Dementia Friendly Communities project has trial projects in Okotoks and Westhills provides presentations with information on symptoms and behaviours with dementia and how to help people with Dementia.


  1. Responding as Families, Friends and Neighbours

There are many resources to learn about dementia and how to help people with dementia.  The most important ingredients are love, sense of humour, and patience.

MIND stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

Many experts regard the Mediterranean and DASH diets as some of the healthiest. Research has shown they can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and several other diseases.  But researchers wanted to create a diet specifically to help improve brain function and prevent dementia.

To do this, they combined foods from the Mediterranean and DASH diets that had been shown to benefit brain health.  For example, both the Mediterranean and DASH diets recommend eating a lot of fruit. Fruit intake has not been correlated with improved brain function, but eating berries has been (5, 6).  Thus, the MIND diet encourages its followers to eat berries, but does not emphasize consuming fruit in general.

Currently, there are no set guidelines for how to follow the MIND diet. Simply eat more of the 10 foods the diet encourages you to eat, and eat less of the five foods the diet recommends you limit.

10 Foods to Eat on the MIND Diet

Green, leafy vegetables: Aim for six or more servings per week. This includes kale, spinach, cooked greens and salads.

All other vegetables: Try to eat another vegetable in addition to the green leafy vegetables at least once a day. It is best to choose non-starchy vegetables because they have a lot of nutrients with a low number of calories.

Berries: Eat berries at least twice a week. Although the published research only includes strawberries, you should also consume other berries like blueberries, raspberries and blackberries for their antioxidant benefits.

Nuts: Try to get five servings of nuts or more each week. The creators of the MIND diet don’t specify what kind of nuts to consume, but it is probably best to vary the type of nuts you eat to obtain a variety of nutrients.

Olive oil: Use olive oil as your main cooking oil.

Whole grains: Aim for at least three servings daily. Choose whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and 100% whole-wheat bread.

Fish: Eat fish at least once a week. It is best to choose fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna and mackerel for their high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Beans: Include beans in at least four meals every week. This includes all beans, lentils and soybeans.

Poultry: Try to eat chicken or turkey at least twice a week. Note that fried chicken is not encouraged on the MIND diet.

Wine: Aim for no more than one glass daily. Both red and white wine may benefit the brain. However, much research has focused on the red wine compound resveratrol, which may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

5 Foods to Avoid on the MIND Diet

Butter and margarine: Try to eat less than 1 tablespoon (about 14 grams) daily. Instead, try using olive oil as your primary cooking fat, and dipping your bread in olive oil with herbs.

Cheese: The MIND diet recommends limiting your cheese consumption to less than once per week.

Red meat: Aim for no more than three servings each week. This includes all beef, pork, lamb and products made from these meats.

Fried food: The MIND diet highly discourages fried food, especially the kind from fast-food restaurants. Limit your consumption to less than once per week.

Pastries and sweets: This includes most of the processed junk food and desserts you can think of. Ice cream, cookies, brownies, snack cakes, donuts, candy and more. Try to limit these to no more than four times a week.