Dementia crept up on her family in a way she could never imagine, says Tarryn Josias, a Health For Mzansi reader from Cape Town. First, her grandmother’s 81-year-old sister, Vera Maarman, was diagnosed with the condition, but in the end it hit other family members too.
“She started answering the door naked and doing other strange things like talking about a man in the roof which nobody [else] could see. As a result, my grandmother decided to take care of her until she passed away,” explains Josias.
After Maarman’s death, her grandmother, Cecilia Maarman, was also diagnosed with dementia. Just like her sister, it seriously impaired her ability to remember, think, or even make decisions.
“My grandmother also started telling stories of things that weren’t true. She would leave the stove on [and] forget recipes that she had been cooking and baking for years. About a year after she was diagnosed at Groote Schuur hospital, she fell down the stairs and after the fall the dementia seemed to accelerate.”
A recent study has found that more than 150 million people across the globe will be diagnosed with dementia by 2050. Also, dementia cases are much higher in the Middle East and African.
The World Health Organisation describes dementia as “a syndrome in which there is deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological ageing.”
People diagnosed with dementia therefore need to get as much care as possible as they may be harmful to themselves or others.
Is dementia curable?
The 2017 World Alzheimer’s Report estimated that there were 4.4 million people over the age of 60 years living in South Africa, with approximately 187 000 living with dementia. Families like Josias’s understandbly seek medication to treat dementia, but the WHO says there aren’t any cures for it.
The doctors who cared for Josias’s elderly family members advised them to keep their minds active and stimulated all the time to, ultimately, slow the rate at which dementia accelerated.
Behavioural health does plays a crucial role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. According to registered dietician Jason van Heerden, even though it is not directly linked to dementia, nutritional health has a role to play in the development of this condition.
“Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels plays a very big part in the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Remember, the higher the blood the more likely you are to develop dementia.”
Van Heerden highly recommends the Mediterranean diet for those who fear dementia. He says this is a heart-healthy diet that includes food staples of people who live closer to or around the Mediterranean sea.
The diet mainly consists of foods that are good for your brain, and blood sugar levels. It mainly involves:
- plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains;
- healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil;
- moderate amounts of dairy and fish;
- very little white meat and red meat;
- a few eggs;
- and red wine in moderation.
Van Heerden says with this diet, people should be mindful of smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol and uncontrollable weight gain, as it may lead to high blood pressure and cause you to develop dementia.