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Angela Rippon and Joan Bakewell are two of the well-known broadcasters who have recently fronted TV and radio programmes on the subject, and acting couple Timothy West and Prunella Scales openly share their experience of living with dementia.
The condition has even featured in soaps, with a storyline in Eastenders following the character Sylvie Carter, returning to The Square with news of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
While the disease is being more widely talked about, there is still a common misconception that dementia is an inevitable consequence of ageing, and this simply isn’t true.
Dementia describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function, from memory loss to confusion and difficulties with speech and understanding. While there’s currently no cure for dementia, research shows that staying socially, mentally and physically active can help.
The evidence that staying physically fit keeps your brain healthy into old age is compelling, and most concrete is the link between aerobic fitness and ‘cognitive preservation’. Brisk walks of 30–45 minutes three times a week can help fend off mental wear and tear, and may delay the onset of dementia. It’s recognised that dancing can have a restorative effect on the brain too, as the physical and social stimulation can bolster cognitive wellbeing.
Staywell’s Fit as a Fiddle programme recently featured a dance course specifically designed for people living with dementia and their carers. The dancers found it was an uplifting way of meeting people and being in the moment, with one couple commenting,
‘It was a great opportunity to meet people with something in common, and have a bit of a laugh!’
Increasingly, classes like aerobics, Zumba Gold and Tai Chi are being aimed at seniors all over the country, giving us access to exercise at a level that’s welcome.
But it’s not just physical exercise that boosts our brains. Research shows that musical memory survives relatively well in dementia. Rhythm acts as a kind of sensory timer, helping the part of the brain that controls timing, coordination and muscle function. As in our early years, when rhythm helps learning and memory, for people living with dementia, it can aid recall and physical movement.
Music learned earlier in life can bring access to memories and the language to talk about them, and in a small way helps people with dementia to function better in general. Veteran MP Dennis Skinner, recently spoke about this with Jeremy Vine on Radio 2. When his mother was in the grip of dementia and no longer recognised him, she was still able to sing along to one of his Desert Island Discs.
We now know that by keeping socially, physically and mentally active we can help delay the onset, or reduce the progression of the dementia, and mitigate its effects. Social centres are a great way to get started if you feel you could be more active in this way. See which centre is nearest to you and contact us for a look around.