I’m 18 years old and we have my grandmother staying with us. She has dementia. My parents and brother and sister assist with caregiving—we sometimes even miss school to help. It’s not always easy, and I worry about what will happen to my parents and even to me. Are we destined to suffer from dementia in our senior years? Some say it’s inevitable. Is dementia preventable? Do you have any advice for our specific situation?
Dementia is a common problem, and it’s estimated that approximately 50 million people live with this disease worldwide. This number is steadily growing and projected to increase to 150 million by 2050. Dementia is especially increasing in low-and middle-income countries. As in the case of your family, dementia affects individuals, but its consequences also affect family members—even children living in the home (e.g., absenteeism from school). The global costs related to dementia are estimated to be about US$1 trillion (or about 823 billions Euros) each year.
The 2020 Report of the Lancet Commission* lists 12 factors that contribute to about 40 percent of worldwide dementias. These include less education early in life, hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, lack of physical activity, depression, diabetes, smoking, social isolation, hearing impairment, exposure to air pollution, traumatic brain injury, and excessive alcohol consumption. It’s important to reiterate that the stance of the Adventist Church regarding alcohol is total abstinence. Although ridiculed in the past by even scientists, strong scientific evidence supports abstinence as the healthful option, confirming that there’s no safe level of alcohol consumption.
Many factors are beyond our control regarding risk for dementia, including our genes and family history. As adults, we have no control over the amount of schooling we had as children, but we should encourage those within our influence to complete their schooling (think- ing especially of your siblings who are helping to care for their grandmother). Other lifestyle choices may prevent or at least delay the onset of dementia. Behavior change is not easy, and we need the support of committed and caring family and friends in managing diabetes, blood pressure control, managing weight loss, accountability regarding regular physical exercise, and nurturing social connectedness and relationships.
We Seventh-day Adventists have been blessed with a comprehensive and grace-filled health message that informs our lifestyle in simple yet powerful ways—making wise choices, physical exercise, drinking pure water, belief and trust in God, rest at night and enjoying Sabbath rest, getting out in the fresh air as much as possible, living in balance (temperance), eating a balanced and healthful vegetarian diet, and enjoying strong and supportive relationships. These blessings are not just for us, but to be shared freely with our family, friends, and the communities in which we live.
And please don’t forget the best news regardless of our circumstances: “[God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for [His] power is made perfect in weakness”
(2 Cor. 12:9, NIV). * G. Livingston, J. Huntley, A. Sommerlad et al, “Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission,” www.the lancet.com, vol. 396, Aug. 8, 2020, pp. 413-446.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.