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Keeping your mind sharp and improving your thinking skills

Alison Hjul

Improving thinking skills in later life

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal shows that cognitive ability begins to decline in middle age. Alison Hjul asks what we can do to boost our brainpower as the population ages

As increased life expectancy and greater financial hardship push up the age of the working population, it’s increasingly likely that employers will have to manage incidences of cognitive decline and dementia in the workplace.

Dementia describes grouped symptoms including memory loss, confusion, difficulty following conversations and mood changes, caused by damage to the brain.

There are more than 100 types, but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease, in which brain cells are believed to be destroyed by rogue proteins and plaques.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), around 820,000 people in the UK have dementia, with 163,000 new cases occurring in England and Wales every year.

A recent study of British civil servants found that age-related cognitive decline, which often leads to dementia, begins earlier than previously thought – at 45 rather than 60.

And, while it mainly affects people over 65, there are more than 16,000 people under 65 with dementia in the UK.

Furthermore, a recent study of British civil servants found that age-related cognitive decline, which often leads to dementia, begins earlier than previously thought – at 45 rather than 60.

Despite costing the UK economy £23 billion a year – more than cancer and heart disease combined – investment in research is dwarfed by the spend on other conditions.

“A lot of this is down to stigma,” says Jess Smith, research communications officer at the Alzheimer’s Society.

However, the government is taking steps towards raising awareness, she says. “It has set up a Ministerial Advisory Group and allocated £18 million for specialist research.”

Coping at work

Early diagnosis of the condition is crucial as it “allows people to gain access to the support and services they need,” says Smith.

In the workplace, it enables employers to make adjustments as soon as possible – such as changing someone’s schedule to provide rest time or simplifying their routines.

It also helps to clarify whether someone has a condition that can be treated, such as stress.

Managers need to be open and honest, says Smith. “They should speak to their employee and say they’ve noticed changes. They need to be supportive and encourage them to talk to their GP.”

If they do have Alzheimer’s disease, their GP may be able to prescribe drugs to stabilise symptoms and slow progression.

Smith advises employees to tell their employer if they get a diagnosis of dementia. “It’s much worse to let it get on top of you,” she says.

In some roles you must tell them – and professional drivers are legally obliged to tell the DVLA.

An employer has to try to make it possible for someone to work, unless they can show good reasons for not making adjustments. The Disability Discrimination Act can protect someone from unfair treatment.

Ultimately, an employee may have to be moved to a position with fewer responsibilities or retire from their job.

Their manager can help to ensure they receive the benefits they’re entitled to – and the Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to offer advice.

Preventing the onset of dementia may not be possible, but research shows that healthy eating, along with physical and mental activity, can be beneficial.

The British Psychological Society reports that aerobic exercise can play a significant part in reducing the likelihood of dementia, and around half the Alzheimer’s cases in a recent Californian study were found to be associated with one or more of seven risk factors – diabetes, high blood pressure, midlife obesity, depression, inactivity, smoking and low educational attainment.

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal shows that cognitive ability begins to decline in middle age. Alison Hjul asks what we can do to boost our brainpower as the population ages

As increased life expectancy and greater financial hardship push up the age of the working population, it’s increasingly likely that employers will have to manage incidences of cognitive decline and dementia in the workplace.

Dementia describes grouped symptoms including memory loss, confusion, difficulty following conversations and mood changes, caused by damage to the brain.

There are more than 100 types, but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease, in which brain cells are believed to be destroyed by rogue proteins and plaques.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK), around 820,000 people in the UK have dementia, with 163,000 new cases occurring in England and Wales every year.

And, while it mainly affects people over 65, there are more than 16,000 people under 65 with dementia in the UK.

Furthermore, a recent study of British civil servants found that age-related cognitive decline, which often leads to dementia, begins earlier than previously thought – at 45 rather than 60.

Despite costing the UK economy £23 billion a year – more than cancer and heart disease combined – investment in research is dwarfed by the spend on other conditions.

“A lot of this is down to stigma,” says Jess Smith, research communications officer at the Alzheimer’s Society.

A recent study of British civil servants found that age-related cognitive decline, which often leads to dementia, begins earlier than previously thought – at 45 rather than 60.

Alison Hjul

However, the government is taking steps towards raising awareness, she says. “It has set up a Ministerial Advisory Group and allocated £18 million for specialist research.”

 

    Comments

  • Rashid Ul Hassan

    i found it the more useful and interesting too.

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