Brain Health & Dementia

Brain Health & Dementia

Brain health is an increasing public health priority in the US, and in our Vermont communities. The proportion of Vermonters over the age of 65 is continuing to increase, predicting that more individuals and families will be impacted by memory loss and dementia.

No matter your age or health status, it is important to understand your risk of memory loss and what you can do to protect your brain health. 

Key Data:

  • In 2020, one in seven (7%) Vermont adults aged 45 and older reported worsening confusion or memory loss in the last year.
  • Adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or other sexual identity (LGBT) have a significantly higher rate of subjective cognitive decline (20%), compared to non-LGBT adults (9%).
  • Of the adults who reported symptoms of cognitive decline, just half (50%) discussed their confusion or memory loss with a healthcare professional.

Vermonters are invited to join Dr. Taylor MD, Neurologist and Director of University of Vermont Medical Center’s Memory Program, on June 23rd at 8:30 am for a presentation on Lifestyle Factors for Dementia Risk Reduction as part of the Public Health Grand Rounds series. Learn more about this event

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What is Brain Health?

Brain health refers to one’s ability to remember, learn, play, concentrate and, generally, have a clear, active mind. That includes things like information management, logic, judgment, perspective, and wisdom. Brain health is influenced by several factors, including genetics, diet, exercise, stress, sleep, and substance use.

As we age, these abilities naturally change and it is normal to experience slower thinking speeds, trouble multitasking or occasionally forgetting things (i.e., misplacing items, forgetting a name you just learned, etc.) Memory changes that result in cognitive impairment, however, are not a normal part of aging.

Warning Signs

More serious problems, like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, are often noticed when symptoms begin to interfere with daily life. As many as 40% of dementia cases can be delayed or prevented, and it helps to know what to look out for and when to see a doctor.

The CDC’s 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • Memory loss that disrupts normal life: repeating oneself, forgetting important names or events.
  • Difficulty problem solving or planning: having trouble following a recipe or playing games.
  • Challenges completing familiar tasks: having trouble using a phone or driving.
  • Confusion with time or place: losing track of time or getting lost in familiar places.
  • Trouble with spatial awareness: clumsiness, issues with balance.
  • New problems with language: forgetting words or having trouble forming a sentence.
  • Frequently misplacing items: difficulty retracing steps.
  • Decreased judgment: difficulty caring for a pet, poor hygiene, not managing money well.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities: not wanting to go to usual events.
  • Changes in mood or personality: easily becoming irritable or upset.
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People with one or more of the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s are encouraged to speak with their doctor. An early diagnosis provides the best chance at treatment, planning for the future and cost savings. As an example, people who are diagnosed in an earlier stage are able to take steps that ultimately can ease the concerns of themselves and their loved ones, such as taking part in treatment decisions, plans, and perhaps participating in a study.

Risk Factors

There are several factors that put people at greater risk for dementia. Identifying and addressing risk factors helps to delay or prevent its onset.

If you have any of the following risk factors it is important to keep close watch for signs and symptoms of abnormal aging and speak with your doctor about prevention or management.

Individuals may be at greater risk for the dementia if they:

  • Are age 65 and older
  • Are female
  • Are African American, Hispanic
  • Have a family history of dementia
  • Have suffered from a traumatic brain injury
  • Have uncorrected hearing loss
  • Have experienced food insecurity in early life.
  • Are socially isolated.
  • Are physically inactive, have poor nutrition or smoke, or live with one or more chronic conditions including:
    • Depression
    • Obesity
    • Heart disease (stroke and/or high cholesterol)
    • Diabetes
    • Hypertension
    • Alcohol use disorder
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What You Can Do

The idea of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be scary and overwhelming but acting as soon as you notice warning signs and risk factors sets you up for the best possible outcomes including time for planning, medication use to improve symptoms, and if interested, inclusion in studies.

In This Section

The health of your brain is closely linked to the health of your body. As a result, practicing healthy habits and actively managing your chronic conditions can go a long way in terms of protecting your brain.

Receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another dementia can leave you feeling scared, isolated, hopeless, anxious, and even angry. It is normal to feel a wide range of emotions. Know that you are joined by thousands of Vermonters who share your diagnosis and understand what you are going through.

A predicted 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease in 2050, dramatically impacting the lives of many Vermonters and their families. In addition to the emotional and financial stress diagnosed individuals and their caregivers face, the increasing numbers pose a significant burden on the health care system.

If you or someone close to you is impacted by Alzheimer’s or a related dementia, you are not alone. There are more than 13,000 Vermonters aged 65 and older who have diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease—the most common cause of dementia—and another 30,000 Vermonters who care for them.