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'No cure is imminent, but dementia research and practice offer other reasons for optimism'

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Dementia is increasingly something that touches us all, both professionally and in our personal circle of friends and family.

It is easy to feel a sense of dread at the very word. Two of my closest friends have lost fathers to the condition, while older relatives are constantly in fear of potential warning signs and symptoms.

“I was heartended by several pieces of news this week”

But I was heartened by several pieces of news this week, which offered clues on helping potentially stave off cognitive decline – if not dementia itself – in older people, and also improving care.

Most of the stories came from a major US event, the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Chicago. The UK’s Alzheimer’s Society performed an invaluable service by analysing the mass of information disseminated from the conference and providing expert comment on what was important and what was not.

Among the studies the society highlighted was a major US trial that showed for the first time that intensive blood pressure control could reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment in patients with hypertension.

It also drew attention to a study by Swedish and Chinese researchers that found a healthy diet – high in non-root vegetables, fish, poultry and fruit – combined with staying active could reduce cognitive decline.

In addition, the charity noted a UK study, involving the University of East Anglia and Aston University, which concluded that people with dementia who take prescribed sleeping pills, commonly known as ‘Z-drugs’, were at a higher risk of experiencing bone fractures.

However, I think I’ve left the best until last: a nurse at a care home in Northumberland has been helping her older residents keep fit though ‘armchair karate’.

The idea came about when mental health nurse and care manager Ann Mielnik saw a video on YouTube. But she admitted she was surprised at how popular the idea had been with her residents.

“These stories do offer reasons for hope in some directions”

There may not be a cure for dementia in sight – will there ever be? However, these stories do offer reasons for hope in some directions.

Researchers are gradually unpicking some of the secrets of cognitive decline and dementia, which seem to suggest that what is good for cardiovascular health is also good for cognitive wellbeing.

Meanwhile, nurses on the ground in care homes and elsewhere in the community are already picking up on this theme and finding increasingly innovative ways to care for their patients with dementia and boost their wellbeing.

Both groups should be encouraged at every turn. Dementia may not be at the ‘sexy’ end of research or care development, but it will touch the vast majority of us at some point, whether directly or indirectly.

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