How to spot dementia in a loved one

As families meet up the Alzheimer’s Society is offering advice on recognising early signs of dementia in a loved one.

As families meet up the Alzheimer's Society is offering advice on recognising early signs of dementia in a loved one.

While many realise that repeatedly forgetting names can be a red flag for dementia, few know that using repetitive phrases can also be a sign.

Stuttering or mispronouncing words is another warning.

There are around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. And 225,000 more people will develop dementia this year – that’s one every three minutes.

A YouGov survey of more than 4,000 adults reveals many people are confused about what are and are not signs of dementia.

Many people thought that forgetting why you have walked into a room (39%) might be a sign, which could happen to anyone. For a person with dementia, it is not so much why they walked into a room that is troubling, but the room itself seeming unfamiliar.
Warning signs


Seek medical advice if your memory loss is affecting daily life and especially if you:

struggle to remember recent events, although you can easily recall things that happened in the past
find it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV
forget the names of friends or everyday objects
cannot recall things you have heard, seen or read
lose the thread of what you are saying
have problems thinking and reasoning
feel anxious, depressed or angry
feel confused even when in a familiar environment or get lost on familiar journeys
find that other people start to notice or comment on your memory loss

The risk of dementia increases with age with one-in-six of those over 80 having the degenerative disease. But it can strike even in middle age.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know dementia is the most feared illness for many, and there’s no question that it can have a devastating impact on people, their family and friends.”

“It’s important we tackle confusion around what are and aren’t signs of dementia, and help give people confidence in approaching loved ones about their concerns so people don’t delay getting help.”

“Dementia can strip you of connections to the people you love, but we have many services that can help stop that and support you.”




Fish diet could ward off depression

Eating a lot of fish may help protect against depression, research suggests.

Eating a lot of fish may help protect against depression, research suggests.An analysis of 26 studies of more than 150,000 people in total indicated a 17% reduction in the risk of depression among those eating the most fish.

One potential reason given by the researchers was the fatty acids found in fish may be important in various aspects of brain activity.

Mind, the mental health charity, said the study supported other work showing links between diet and mood.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the Chinese researchers said many studies had been done looking at fish consumption and depression, but the results had been mixed.

When they looked at different study types, they found that the apparent protective effect of eating lots of fish was specific to studies done in Europe and not those from other areas of the world.

To try to come to a conclusion on what they said had been a controversial issue, they collated the data from all the relevant studies they could find conducted since 2001.

Their calculation did show a significant link between the two, and it was true for men and women.

While the results could not point to any conclusions about cause and effect, there were interesting theories as to why fish may be good for mental health, the researchers said.
Healthier diets link

One possible explanation is that the omega-three fatty acids found in fish may be key in the activity of dopamine and serotonin – two signalling chemicals in the brain thought to be involved in depression.

Another possibility is that people who eat a lot of fish may have a healthier diet in general – which in turn could help their mental health.

Prof Dongfeng Zhang, from the Medical College of Qingdao University, said: “Higher fish consumption may be beneficial in the primary prevention of depression.

“Future studies are needed to further investigate whether this association varies according to the type of fish.”

Rachel Boyd, information manager at Mind, said they had recently published a guide, Food and Mood, which included advice on eating the “good fats” such as those found in fish.

“It is important not to oversimplify the results as there are lots of different factors in the development of depression,” she said.

“But we really agree that having these fatty acids in your diet can be helpful, and it’s something where people can make quite small changes that could have quite a big impact.”

She pointed out that for vegetarians or others who did not want to eat fish there were other sources of fatty acids, such as seeds and nuts, as well as supplements.

Drinking water doesn’t prevent a hangover, study says

Downing glasses of water after a night of heavy drinking won’t improve your sore head the next day- new Dutch research suggests.

Downing glasses of water after a night of heavy drinking won't improve your sore head the next day- new Dutch research suggests.Instead, a study unfortunately concluded- the only way to prevent a hangover is to drink less alcohol.

More than 800 students were asked how they tried to relieve hangover symptoms, but neither food nor water was found to have any positive effect.

A team of international researchers from the Netherlands and Canada surveyed students’ drinking habits to find out whether hangovers could be eased or if some people were immune to them.

Among 826 Dutch students, 54% ate food after drinking alcohol, including fatty food and heavy breakfasts, in the hope of staving off a hangover.

With the same aim, more than two thirds drank water while drinking alcohol and more than half drank water before going to bed.

Although these groups showed a slight improvement in how they felt compared with those who hadn’t drunk water, there was no real difference in the severity of their hangovers.

Previous research suggests that about 25% of drinkers claim never to get hangovers.

So the researchers questioned 789 Canadian students about their drinking in the previous month and the hangovers they experienced, finding that those who didn’t get a hangover simply consumed “too little alcohol to develop a hangover in the first place”.

Of those students who drank heavily, with an estimated blood alcohol concentration of more than 0.2%, almost no-one was immune to hangovers.

According to lead author Dr Joris Verster, from Utrecht University, the relationship was pretty straightforward.

“The more you drink, the more likely you are to get a hangover.

“Drinking water may help against thirst and a dry mouth, but it will not take away the misery, the headache and the nausea.”

Dr Verster said part of the problem was that scientists still do not know what causes a hangover.

“Research has concluded that it’s not simply dehydration – we know the immune system is involved, but before we know what causes it, it’s very unlikely we’ll find an effective cure.”

He said the next step was to carry out more controlled trials on hangovers.

Dr Michael Bloomfield, from University College, London, said the economic costs of alcohol abuse ran into hundreds of billions of euros every year.

“It’s therefore very important to answer simple questions like, ‘How do you avoid a hangover?’

“Whilst further research is needed, this new research tells us that the answer is simple – drink less.”

The paper is presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference in Amsterdam.

Cycling to work without a helmet? Please think again

With more people cycling to work in cities such as London, New York, and San Francisco, the conversation often turns to the dangers of riding in heavy city traffic.

With more people cycling to work in cities such as London, New York, and San Francisco, the conversation often turns to the dangers of riding in heavy city traffic. I had an interview recently with a lawyer in London who began by apologising for being out of breath. “My wife banned me from riding my bike after three accidents in central London in the space of 12 months,” he explained. “I’ve gotten out of shape.”

I mentioned that I had just walked from Hackney in east London to the City and was surprised at the number of cyclists in the latest reflective and polypropylene cycling gear who were nonetheless weaving in and out of traffic without a helmet.

My lawyer friend laughed knowingly. “I keep a photo on my phone of my cracked helmet to show people what their head might look like when they cycle without one,” he said.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has often sung the praises of cycling to work, and the rental bicycles scattered through the city are even nicknamed “Boris bikes” because of his support for them. But even though Mr Johnson has had a few close calls while cycling, he has refrained from making bicycle helmets mandatory.

I understand that riding in hot weather with a helmet can be uncomfortable, but I think the case for helmets, mandatory or not, is hard to dispute. Australia, New Zealand and parts of Canada have adopted compulsory helmet laws and it is clear that cycling deaths declined in the years after those laws were adopted.

Some have pointed out that the number of heart attacks rose in Australia because some cyclists gave up riding to work rather than wear a helmet, but is that really relevant?

The grim fact is that London had already reached eight cycling deaths by June of this year and New York recorded a doubling of fatalities from nine to 18 in 2014. It is true that the number of cyclists is increasing in both cities, which is a good thing, but that does not diminish the avoidable dangers. The victims included a prominent Manhattan surgeon and a neuroscientist, who were not wearing helmets.

Michael Carter, a paediatric neurosurgeon in Bristol, told me recently that he often sees cases of head injuries from bicycle accidents in his hospital’s emergency room that could have been avoided if the cyclists had worn helmets.

“It makes no sense whatsoever to ride without a helmet,” said Dr Carter, who has stopped cycling in the city because of the recent deaths of two friends.

The Cochrane Library, widely accepted as the gold standard for medical research worldwide, looked at bicycle accidents and did a statistical comparison of different studies to see if there were patterns in helmet use.

The review said that three quarters of all fatalities on bicycles result from head injuries. It found that “wearing a helmet reduced the risk of head or brain injury by approximately two thirds or more, regardless of whether the crash involved a motor vehicle.”

One solution to the problem of bicycle safety is the creation of dedicated bike lanes, which has happened in Berlin, New York and other cities and should be tried elsewhere. But they do not eliminate the danger entirely and the reasonable response is to wear a helmet, even for short rides.

If the above doesn’t convince you to wear a helmet- also consider that medical insurance payouts are halved if the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet.


Sleep deprivation as bad as smoking

People who get by on too little sleep are just as bad as smokers, and can function as poorly as drunks says a leading neuroscientist.

People who get by on too little sleep are just as bad as smokers, and can function as poorly as drunksProf Russell Foster, a neuroscientist from the University of Oxford, said lack of sleep is damaging the health of the nation, with too many early risers trying to function with brain skills so damaged they could be drunk.

The comments follow studies which suggest that working night shifts speeds up the ageing process, and is linked to increasing risks of cancer, heart disease and type two diabetes.

Prof Foster, director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, called for a change in attitudes towards getting an early night.

“There certainly is a culture of, well I only had five hours of sleep last night how fantastic am I?” he said. “In fact, we should be looking down on those sort of things – in the same way that we frown upon smoking I think we should start to frown upon not taking our sleep seriously.”

The neuroscientist raised concern that sleep deprivation could cause risks not just in jobs such as healthcare and transport, where dangers were obvious, but also could damage the quality of crucial decisions.

“We see this too much with really senior people,” he said. “Lack of sleep damages a whole host of skills – empathy, processing information, ability to handle people, but right at the top of the chain you get overly impulsive, impaired thinking, because of this problem.”

He said many of those who rise before dawn were unaware of just how badly it could affect the functioning of their brain.

“At four o clock in the morning our ability to process information is similar to the amount of alcohol that would make us legally drunk – as bad as if we had a few whiskies or beers,” he said.

Prof Foster said the evidence about the increased health risks posed by nightshifts was compelling.

“The assumption has always been that you adapt to the nightshift that the body clock will map on to the demands of working at night. The really extraordinary findings across a whole range of different studies are that you don’t adapt,” he said, citing research linking night working to a host of diseases.

But he said overall lack of rest was enough to cause lack of attention, accidental “microsleeps” – such as dropping off at the wheel – as well as reduced ability to process thoughts.

Last year French research showed the brains of workers who had done night shifts for about 10 years had aged by an extra 6 and a half years.

Those taking part in the study by the University of Toulouse, found they had lower scores for memory, processing speed and overall brain function than those working normal office hours.

Lack of sleep has been linked with factors such as disrupted metabolism and raised levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, all of which may lead to higher blood pressure and increased stroke risk.

In 2010 a major study found that people who slept for less than six hours each night were 12 per cent more likely to die prematurely – before the age of 65 – than those who slept the recommended six to eight hours a night.

What’s the best way to fight memory loss?

Ask anyone over the age of 40 what worries them most about growing older and the answer that comes back is almost always the fear of losing your memory.

Ask anyone over the age of 40 what worries them most about growing older and the answer that comes back is almost always the fear of losing your memory.There are some fairly obvious things to avoid if you want to maintain good brain health. These include smoking, becoming overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes.

Trust Me I’m A Doctor, with Michael Mosley, Gabriel Weston and Dr Chris van Tulleken, was broadcast on BBC Two. With the help of Newcastle University they recruited 30 volunteers to find out.

Before they began all the volunteers were subjected to a barrage of tests that measured things like memory, ability to problem solve and general psychomotor speed (reaction times).

Everyone was then fitted with an activity monitor to measure how much and when they were moving.

The volunteers were then randomly allocated to three groups and asked to do a particular activity for the next eight weeks.

One group were simply asked to walk briskly, so that they were just out of breath, for three hours a week. The idea is that walking – in fact any form of vigorous exercise – will keep your brain fed with lots of oxygen-rich blood.

The second group were asked to do puzzles, such as crosswords or Sudoku. Again they had to do it for three hours each week. The reasoning behind this approach is that your brain, like a muscle, benefits from being challenged. Use it or lose it.

The final group were asked to take part in an art class which also happened to involve drawing a naked man, Steve for three hours a week.

By the end of the eight week trial almost everyone in the walking group noticed a big improvement in their general health – how much easier they found managing a particular hill.

Some of the puzzler group had found the puzzles hard at first, but by the end of the eight weeks many were hooked and swapping Sudoku tips.

The most enthusiastic group, however, was undoubtedly the art class. Although a few found attending a class once a week daunting, all of them commented on how much they enjoyed it.

So, art equals pleasure, but which group enjoyed the greatest improvements in brain power?

The scientists redid their battery of cognitive tests and the results were clear cut. All the groups had got a bit better, but the stand out group was those who had attended the art class.

But why should going to an art class make a difference to things like memory? Clinical Psychologist Daniel Collerton, one of the experts from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust and Newcastle University, says that part of the benefit came from learning a new skill.

“Learning something new,” he says, “engages the brain in ways that seem to be key. Your brain changes in response, no matter how many years you have behind you.”

Learning how to draw was not only a fresh challenge to our group but, unlike the puzzlers, it also involved developing psychomotor skills. Capturing an image on paper is not just intellectually demanding. It involves learning how to make the muscles in your hand guide the pencil or paintbrush in the right directions.

An additional benefit was that going to the art class meant that for three hours a week they had to stand while drawing or painting. Standing for longer periods is a good way of burning calories and keeping your heart in good shape.

The art class was also the most socially active, another important thing to bear in mind if you want to keep your brain sharp. This group met regularly outside class, were keen to exchange emails and there was a definite social aspect to this intervention.

All of which meant that this group enjoyed a triple benefit when it came to boosting brain health.