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Keeping Dementia at Bay

Loss of short-term memory would seem to be a warning that something is not quite right; but, everyone suffers lapses, even the young, so it tends to be dismissed. I admit to being annoyed with myself when I walk into a room and have to pause because I have forgotten why I was there. I expect my problem, as it is for many, is merely temporary - too much information buzzing around in my head causing confusion and distraction. I imagine it would be the same for anyone experiencing the first stages of Dementia when being faced with an unclear future brought about by a sudden change in circumstances. They must feel that they have turned round to discover the tide of life has gone out leaving them stranded. One moment they had clarity and purpose, the next these undeserving castaways find themselves on a lonely beach staring out at an endless ocean of despair. One might think they would eventually snap out of it and do something: maybe build a raft, or a signal fire; all-too often, however, they have lost their sense of self-worth and convince themselves there is no point in anything anymore, so why bother?

Maybe medical science has not yet found a cure for Dementia, but I believe it can be slowed down, arrested even. My remedy is pretty straightforward - it's about the old dog learning new tricks to re-activate a brain that is becoming sluggish. Once the challenges of full-time work, especially the practical kind, are no longer providing something to think about, lethargy and dissatisfaction take over. Encouraging another interest can be the answer, something to stimulate thought. This might be in the form of a hobby or craft, activities demanding a combination of dexterity and mental skills - like model-making, art, bonsai-growing, pottery; something different to vegetating in front of the TV. The brain needs exercise. Re-introducing the processes of planning and decision-making can lead to a sense of personal achievement. Not everyone, however, is into wood-carving and suchlike, but there must be a multitude of pastimes that can stimulate the mind, make it work again on one of its major talents - focussing on quests and conundrums with a view to resolution.

Whatever the starter, it doesn't need to be complicated: just something simple that improves hand-eye co-ordination with few components. Crosswords would be ideal for someone who enjoys reading; and puzzle games such as the kind found in newspapers and magazines help keep the brain active. Our daughter drew up a Sudoku puzzle on a whiteboard, mainly because it was easy to see and add to. Whenever we were at her place, we were unable to walk past without pausing to ponder. Our current jigsaw on a table always attracts the interest of residents and visitors alike. Brain-teasers like these are ideal therapy; but if they are seen as enjoyable for all, there is less stigma attached. Joint participation at this level is important and can be expanded on with other games - cards, board games, dominos and dice to name a few. It may take a while to coax the troubled person to join in, but if this can be achieved it shouldn't be long before they are looking forward to another session.

Could they possibly be encouraged to take that fearful leap into the cyber world? Trying to convince die-hard cynics to have a dabble on the Internet can be soul-destroying, but a slowly-slowly approach might work, especially if they are guided towards some area of personal interest. They would benefit from learning within an environment so different to the one they knew before. There can be no precedents to live up to, certainly no expectations other than, hopefully, a desire to use the medium for more than just a look at Facebook or the latest news bulletins. They may even be tempted to try playing a game or two; off-line preferably to start with - later, who knows? Many of the basic match-three games are ideal for stimulating cognitive skills, particular those which are not timed and are therefore unlikely to cause tension and frustration, two elements that need to be avoided. Hidden-object games are also quite laid-back and require focus and concentration. Most importantly, playing games is fun - something that needs to be experienced again, sooner rather than later.

Tempting a stubborn person to do something which takes them out of their comfort zone is never going to be easy; but I feel sure it will be worth the effort in the long run. And here's a thought: you may be in need of similar therapy yourself one day; so getting a bit of practice early in the piece could mean you won't have to argue the toss with some do-gooder because you already know what you have to do to keep your brain functioning properly.

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