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Jodi Montlake shares her personal story of dementia’s impact on her family and her path to proactive health. Against the canvas of cherished memories, she delves into a 17-year family saga marked by challenges, misunderstandings and the silent storm of dementia.

Detecting early signs of dementia

Back in the early 90s, family gatherings at Nana’s home were filled with joy until an infamous homemade cheesecake incident hinted at an underlying issue and unveiled early signs of dementia.

After a lovely family afternoon, with a stroll round The Rose Garden in Regents Park, my family and I looked forward to returning to Nana’s home and getting a slice of her always wonderful cheesecake.

Sign one: As we all took our first bite, a look of repulsion with a taste of something that resembled washing powder horrified the tea party and we all politely (unknown to Nana) spat the cake out in our napkins. This was really strange!

The afternoon continued to go downhill.

Nana started recalling stories of how her other son continued to let her down by not showing up for scheduled visits to see her, didn’t take her food shopping (as promised) and never called her. This angered my dad no end and sparked continuous arguments with his brother later that day, which hit a climax with a 17-year fall-out. The family became divided. We no longer saw or spent time with my uncle and cousins. We missed each other at family occasions, including weddings, funerals, births, Christmases and all.

These ‘tales’ about my uncle, we later find out, marked sign two: a series of challenges as Nana’s mental decline became more apparent, leading to more strained friend and family relationships and numerous landmark events.

A farewell to secrets: Unveiling dementia’s impact at Nana’s funeral

It wasn’t until the evening of Nana’s funeral when the two brothers properly spoke again. They discovered, through conversation, that their fall-out was a complete misunderstanding, and the stories Nana told about her son that he didn’t show up as he should were untrue. Nana had forgotten; her short-term memory had been disappearing.

The harsh reality of dementia is that early indicators can be dismissed; for Nana, an official diagnosis took place 15 years after the ‘cheesecake incident’ and fabricated stories. The toll this took on my family emphasised the need for awareness and understanding of the signs of mental decline.

The current state of dementia

In 2024, the family continues to grapple with dementia, affecting all three of Nana’s children. I reflect on the distinct lifestyles of the siblings, prompting questions about the role of stress, sedentary habits and other factors in the onset of the disease.

Scroll to the bottom to find 10 approaches my family and I are using to live with and reduce the risk of further decline with dementia today.

What is dementia?

Dementia UK defines dementia as “an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain.

“Each type of dementia stops a person’s brain cells (neurones) working properly in specific areas, affecting their ability to remember, think and speak.

“Doctors typically use the word ‘dementia’ to describe common symptoms – such as memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding – that get worse over time.

“Dementia can affect a person at any age, but it’s more common in people over the age of 65.

“By 2025, it’s estimated that over one million people in the UK will have a diagnosis of dementia – and almost all of us will know someone living with the condition.”

Navigating the storm

I must emphasise the critical role of organisations like Dementia UK, medical professionals and health coaches, like myself, who can play a vital role in supporting those at risk of – or who are affected by – dementia.

Health coaching tips to minimise risk of dementia

I’d like to share with you practical tips based on my experiences as a health coach. The tips encompass maintaining an active lifestyle, stress management practices, adequate sleep, healthy eating habits, and more. Each tip is tailored to empower you on your journey towards proactive health.

10 tips to minimise risk of dementia

  1. Embracing regular movement: Studies on sedentary lifestyles reveal a startling truth: those who engage in the least physical activity (the bottom 10%) are over twice as likely to fall prey to Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who are the most active (the top 10%). The beauty of incorporating movement into your routine lies in its adaptability. Whether you’re a seasoned fitness enthusiast or just starting out, there are myriad options to suit your preferences, exercise history, accessibility and health concerns. It could be as effortless as taking a stroll around the block or tending to your garden after binge-watching your favourite TV series. For some, engaging in cardiovascular activities like doubles tennis or brisk walking a few times a week might suffice. Others might find solace in hitting the gym for strength training, or finding peace and flexibility through Pilates or yoga sessions. Whatever your choice, the key is to keep moving, not just for your body but for the vitality of your mind.
  2. Opt for clean water: The term ‘clean’ is crucial when it comes to water, as modern water sources may contain toxins such as chlorine, ammonia, fluoride and hormones, which our bodies struggle to process. Signs of water toxicity can manifest as fatigue, mental fogginess, anxiety and premature ageing. Choosing filtered water or boiling filtered water for consumption, such as with matcha, can support a healthier ageing process and lifestyle, and optimise your body’s performance.
  3. Embrace a nourishing diet: In individuals with mental disorders, deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, minerals and amino acids are commonly observed. Scientific research highlights the detrimental effects of sugar on mood stability and overall health. Additionally, artificial sweeteners present in various beverages and foods, such as juices, diet sodas, desserts and chewing gum, have been linked to neurotoxic effects like memory loss and cognitive changes. To counteract these issues, consider incorporating brain-boosting foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, dark leafy greens and berries into your diet.
  4. Optimal sleep: Achieving both quality and quantity in your sleep is essential for overall wellbeing. One highly effective tip to enhance your sleep quality is to regulate your exposure to light: increase exposure during the day and reduce it at night. Consistency is key in implementing this practice, as with any lifestyle change. It’s important to commit to these adjustments over time to observe noticeable improvements in your sleep patterns.
  5. Effective stress management: Exercise has long been recognised as a powerful tool for mitigating stress. Yoga, originating thousands of years ago, initially emphasised spiritual and mental wellbeing to foster harmony among mind, body and soul. The breathing techniques integral to yoga practice facilitate the body’s resilience to resistance and stress on its systems. Similarly, Pilates offers an exceptional exercise flow that enhances co-ordination via nerve pathways, enabling us to better cope with stress and navigate life’s challenges with ease.
  6. Moderating alcohol consumption: Alcohol can act as a chemical stressor on the body, similar to caffeine. Exploring healthier drinking alternatives, such as enjoying kombucha as a refreshing cold beverage served in a gin glass, can be a delightful substitute for alcoholic drinks.
  7. Steer clear of smoking: Similar to alcohol, smoking accelerates ageing and is strongly associated with cognitive decline. While there’s much more to delve into regarding this topic, it’s extensive enough to warrant its own dedicated article.
  8. Participate in social activities: As discussed in the earlier tip about increasing physical activity, team sports like tennis offer great opportunities. Similarly, engaging in volunteer work at local community centres, charity shops or schools can provide mental stimulation and a meaningful sense of purpose. Alternatively, you might enjoy playing cards with a group of friends. The choice is yours to find what best suits your interests and preferences.
  9. Learn something new and keep your brain active: For example, Bridge, a new language, Sudoku or painting. Keep it fun, while somewhat challenging. When you learn a new skill, whether it’s playing a musical instrument, speaking a new language or mastering a new hobby, your brain forms new neural connections and strengthens existing ones. This process helps maintain cognitive function and can even offset age-related decline.
  10. Make regular visits to your doctor for health check-ups: Whether it’s for preventative care, monitoring chronic conditions, exploring health promotion options, undergoing screening tests, managing medications, ensuring continuity of care or simply for your own peace of mind.

I conclude this article with my personal commitment to advocating for lifestyle changes that promote overall wellbeing and reduce the risk of dementia. It reinforces the importance of awareness, early intervention and a holistic approach to health.

Author Bio:

Headshot of Jodi Montlake chopping food. Jodi is the author of this blog on Dementia.Jodi Montlake, a health coach with over two decades of experience, is the founder of WE GOT THIS, delivering coaching calls and an app that provides education, support, motivation and daily accountability on various health aspects, ensuring comprehensive guidance. Her expertise lies in supporting individuals through personalised health programmes, emphasising preventative measures for chronic conditions like obesity, menopause, dementia and diabetes. Connect with Jodi on INSTA





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