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Disease's stigma must be beaten, expert says

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/12/2014 (1542 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE thought of getting dementia or Alzheimer's disease is one of the most feared and least talked-about aspects of aging. That needs to change so Manitobans can prepare to cope with a dramatic spike in cases coming from aging baby boomers, experts warn.

"It's a stigma we need to overcome," said Dr. Barry Campbell, geriatric psychiatrist at St. Boniface Hospital.

Manitoba's dementia boom is expected to hit in 2038, the Alzheimer's Society of Manitoba says. It will be 2050 before the province gets out from under the bulge, Campbell said.

"There's a need for us to be doing things better than the way we are now," he said. "It used to be thought that dementia was an inevitable consequence of growing old. Now it's a disease process. We don't have a cure for the underlying problem but we recognize exercise and modifiable factors that can modify how the disease progresses."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/12/2014 (1542 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE thought of getting dementia or Alzheimer's disease is one of the most feared and least talked-about aspects of aging. That needs to change so Manitobans can prepare to cope with a dramatic spike in cases coming from aging baby boomers, experts warn.

"It's a stigma we need to overcome," said Dr. Barry Campbell, geriatric psychiatrist at St. Boniface Hospital.

Manitoba's dementia boom is expected to hit in 2038, the Alzheimer's Society of Manitoba says. It will be 2050 before the province gets out from under the bulge, Campbell said.

"There's a need for us to be doing things better than the way we are now," he said. "It used to be thought that dementia was an inevitable consequence of growing old. Now it's a disease process. We don't have a cure for the underlying problem but we recognize exercise and modifiable factors that can modify how the disease progresses."

Less than half of Manitoba's older adults get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, the Alzheimer's Society says. Yet, those who were very physically active were 40 per cent less likely to develop Alzheimer's than those who were inactive.

"The brain doesn't exist in isolation from the rest of your body," Campbell said. "There are aspects of physical activity good for your heart, good for your muscles and good for your brain as well."

Heart disease and any type of vascular health problems affect the flow of blood to the brain. Exercising pumps more blood to the brain, sending it oxygen, sugar, hormones and what it needs to function.

"The body has evolved to maintain the brain. Through exercise, you increase chemicals and hormones in the brain — the kind that create the 'runner's high,' " Campbell said. Without that happening, people can feel lethargic and depressed.

You don't have to run a marathon to exercise the brain. Instead, Campbell recommended "mindfulness" exercises — such as trying to brush your teeth with your left hand if you're right-handed — which helps work new "muscles" in your brain.

"It's not easy. You might come away with bleeding gums until you get good at it," he said. "If you keep at it, you produce better brain connectivity that allows you to do that task... Learning is good for the brain."

The Minds in Motion program is based on those concepts. It's a new pilot program that combines physical and mentally stimulating activities for people with early and mid-stage signs of Alzheimer's and other dementias.

Campbell urges people not to wait until old age to mentally work out. Physical and mental workouts are best, but for those who can't or won't, it's better to play a computer game than watch TV, and better to watch TV than just sit alone and do nothing. It's best to do something novel — like a crossword puzzle if you have never done one — "than continue to stick with what you know," he said.

People prefer to do things they're used to and know, but he said it's important to mix it up. "If you're good at golf, take up tennis. Golfing doesn't stretch the mind if you're already good at it."

Sedentary, solitary seniors get caught in a rut, and the aging process can hit them hard.

"Minds in Motion should occur in every nursing home every day," said Campbell. "We can do so much better than we're doing now."

— Sanders

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

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