You probably see it on a weekly basis in your practice. A formerly well-appointed, successful patient arrives for their appointment with the assistance of a family member or caregiver. They need help getting into the chair, and you are surprised by the decline in their health since you saw them last, especially when you remember that your patient is only a few years older than you are. The Globe and Mail reported in January 2010 that the annual cost of dementia is growing rapidly. Dementia is the number one cause of disability over age 65 and this is only worsening as the large numbers of baby boomers age. Dementia is the medical term describing the slow loss of intellectual function. It encompasses a number of conditions including Alzheimer’s – which is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the second most feared diagnosis after cancer. There is no cure – just a handful of medications that may slow the inevitable, progressive decline. According to researchers, some of the leading factors promoting Alzheimer’s disease are smoking, poor diet, lack of intellectual stimulation and physical inactivity. The first recommendation on a recent report commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Canada is to provide education to promote physical and mental exercise that can delay the onset of dementia. Mark Mattson, of the National Institute on Aging agrees. He says: ‘Many of the same factors that can reduce our risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes also reduce the risk for age-related neurodegenerative disorders.’ Unfortunately, our sedentary society is not even coming close to meeting the minimum requirements for brain health. Only 8% of men and 4% of women actively participate in a complete exercise programme, which includes cardiovascular activity, strength training and flexibility.
Exercise is medicine
Exercise is like a miracle drug. It helps to prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and even some cancers. It will make your bones stronger, improve your blood lipid profile (cholesterol and fats in the blood), increase your strength, and restore your balance. Exercise stimulates new blood vessel growth in your brain, heart, and skeletal muscle, increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients to these areas. People with the least cognitive decline have three things in common: education, self-efficacy, and exercise.