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Be Curious!

April 3, 2010

Among the experts, there is a clear consensus that the potential increase in numbers of people suffering from dementia in Australia is something to worry about.

DEMENTIA – THE MAJOR DISEASE OF THIS CENTURY

• New report predicts over 1.1 million Australians with dementia by 2050
• By 2020 there will be 75,000 baby boomers with dementia
• Dementia is on track to become the largest source of health and aged
care spending.

This is not a controversial matter.

Is it inevitable? Is it preventable? Can dementia be delayed?

Which approach to take in terms of the current aging population is controversial, however… even if you accept the science, then what to do about it is a very difficult political issue.  It’s an issue where the risks and benefits are very long term.

Take precautionary action

Age changes can be serious and the risk associated with them can be substantial.  Precautionary action is called for.

Choosing to maintain a healthy lifestyle is fully justified as an insurance policy against the worst case scenario and I believe action should be based on that worst case scenario; the high risk end of the probability of dementia for an increasingly aging population. In the end it’s a cost benefit analysis and really a concern to try to avoid the worst case if possible.

In my view there is no doubt whatsoever that everyone should be making an effort now (at 30, 40 50 or 60 and onwards ) to reduce their chances of the adverse effects of aging. The younger the better. The scientific evidence shows that aged brains can carry the evidence of dementia, but there can be sufficient ‘cognitive reserve’  built up over a lifetime to have prevented manifestation of the disease.

To be on the positive side, all the things we ought to be doing, and enjoy doing and which we could benefit from, are things that will be a step towards the target of reducing the occurrence of dementia. But even without that motive, they are things we should be doing anyway. Unfortunately, as Michael Merzenich says, “many older people simply want an easy life..”

“In the brain it is the challenge to the nerve cells and their plasticity that is important. One way to be certain of continued enrichment is to stimulate and maintain curiosity throughout a lifetime.” Marion Diamond

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