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World Alzheimer's Day: Better care for people with dementia

20 Sep 2014

Our team in Colombia marking World Alzheimer's DayToday, I am in Tarija, Bolivia, where I forget about my job coordinating a HelpAge project to improve dementia care in Andean countries and the fact that World Alzheimer's Day is Sunday.

No, I am about to go to my first national athletic championship! I am slightly anxious; it will be my first athletic championship since school (a long, long time ago).

In this event, athletes from the whole country and of all ages will be competing. In La Paz, our oldest competitor is a lady who is 85-years-old. Some of the participants have chronic diseases but all have clear heads and a strong will. All are independent.

Link between exercise and dementia?

It occurs to me that none have any form of cognitive impairment. This event is another example of something people with dementia cannot enjoy.

Exercise is well known for helping people age in a healthy way. For example, it is well known that sport decreases the blood sugar levels. Physical exercise is also the number one recommendation for preventing non-communicable diseases; diseases such as diabetes or hypertension that are putting a huge strain on health systems everywhere.

But does physical exercise help to prevent dementia? And does it help people who already have dementia? I wonder whether physical exercise would have the same positive effect as cognitive stimulation does.

Dementia affects whole families

I have seen artists and other public figures with cognitive impairments, including dementia, telling their stories of living with dementia in order to raise public awareness of the disease. Many can continue to work for a long time. I can't recall any sportspeople doing the same, though. Does anyone have any examples?

On Sunday, World Alzheimer's Day, I will keep a part of my mind (brain?) busy with thoughts for people with cognitive impairments. I will also be thinking of their families, who, more than caring for their loved ones, also suffer as they see their relatives losing their faculties.

Working for a better life for people with dementia

On Monday I will be back at work with the project, hoping to contribute towards a better quality of life for people with dementia, those of today and tomorrow.

We won't be able to cure dementia overnight, but we can take the first steps toward a better quality of life for people living with dementia.

Find out more about our work on health issues for older people

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Catherine Dusseau

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.