13 March 2014
More than 250 people from the Gisborne region packed out a meeting Kiri Te Kanawa Retirement Village to hear tips from a Sydney doctor on how to tackle the worst that dementia can throw at a family.
Dr Helena Popovic wrote In Search of My Father, the story of a daughter’s determination to fight dementia, after moving in with her dad to help him come to grips with the loss of his wife and the impact of vascular dementia.
Dr Popovic, who was in New Zealand to help mark the Neurological Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week, gave the Gisborne audience her top 20 ‘brain booster’ tips based on her experiences in caring for her dad.
She told the audience at Kiri Te Kanawa that, contrary to what she was taught at medical school 20 years ago, latest research showed that the brain was capable of regenerating and repairing itself. That meant patients diagnosed with chronic brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia could develop strategies to cope.
Scientists had found that the brain was capable of generating up to 5000 new cells a day, she said.
“That means we need to drop a lot of pre-conceived ideas about what we can do,’’ Dr Popovic said.
Research showed that patients could defy dementia by sharpening the cognitive power they had and slowing down decline.
Top of her list of tips for people wanting to ward off the symptoms of dementia were exercise, diet and constantly trying different ways to stimulate the brain.
She said social interaction, being curious and trying new things also helped stimulate the brain. Social isolation and loneliness in old age were linked with higher rates of dementia.
The best weapon the elderly had in their arsenal was a positive attitude to getting on with their lives, no matter what their age. She pointed to research showing that those who adopted a negative outlook to ageing were likely to die earlier.
“Don’t worry about the whingers – they will go before you,’’ she said.
Her strategy with her father included getting him to try new things, including a different diet, exercise, joining men’s groups and voluntary work delivering meals on wheels.
“Voluntary work has many benefits – people never lose their desire to look after each other.’’
Her father had a desire to feel useful – he did not want to be just looked after in old age, Dr Popovic said.