What is dementia?
Dementia is not just one disease. Rather, according to the Alzheimer Switzerland Association, dementia is the generic term for more than 100 different diseases that affect brain function. While some forms of dementia are reversible (for example, those due to a metabolic disorder such as hypothyroidism or vitamin B12 deficiency), others cannot be cured. The most widely known forms are Alzheimer's dementia and vascular dementia.
What are the risk factors?
- Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. It occurs when the brain is not supplied with sufficient oxygen-rich blood. This may be caused by: high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of exercise, smoking and a diet too rich in unhealthy fats.
- Risk factors for dementia also include excessive alcohol consumption, lack of social contacts, depression and – according to the latest research – exposure to fine dust.
Hearing loss in old age can also bring on dementia.
One factor that cannot be influenced is gender: women are disproportionately more likely to develop the disease than men.
How can I prevent dementia?
Although no one can directly protect themselves from dementia or Alzheimer's disease, these tips help to keep the brain fit and healthy and to counteract the degradation processes:
A diet that is easy on the heart and blood vessels is good for our brains: more fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts. Also fish, polyunsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils such as rapeseed and olive oil, and carbohydrates from pasta, bread or rice.
Our brain can also build new connections in old age – if we train it. Those who read daily – newspapers or books, for example – and solve mental exercises are on the right track. Playing music and dancing also exerts the brain. How about learning a new language as you get older?
Exercise not only keeps the body fit, but the brain too. Just everyday tasks – like cleaning windows or gardening – that quicken the pulse and the breath are beneficial. Also good is regular sport, such as cycling, gym classes or workouts.
Family and friends
An active social life also helps keep us mentally fit for longer. This can be socialising with family and friends, playing bridge or volunteering.
Certain health problems also raise the risk of dementia. This is why you should have your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels measured every few years or whenever your doctor advises. It's also advisable to watch your weight, stop smoking and avoid stress.
National dementia strategy
According to figures from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH, 2020 figures), more than 144,000 people in Switzerland suffer from dementia. It is estimated that more than 30,000 new cases are added every year. Several years ago, due to the rapid increase in dementia cases, the Federal Council launched the National Dementia Strategy 2014-2019 from which certain measures were developed. In 2019 the strategy was transferred to a platform.