10 quirky animated videos addressing common concerns about memory loss and dementia have been developed by researchers in Trinity College Dublin in a bid to allay fears about memory loss, promote brain health and tackle the stigma associated with dementia.
The number of people living with dementia worldwide is currently estimated at 35.6 million, according to the World Health Organization. This number will double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. Stigma associated with dementia prevents open discussion of the condition and encourages the false belief that nothing can be done for people with dementia and their families. The series of short films hopes to encourage people to be proactive about their own brain health.
The films address common fears about memory loss and dementia and also provide practical advice about how to improve your brain health. Topics covered in the films include: When should I be concerned about my memory? What can you do to keep your brain healthy? And what's the difference between Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia?
The FreeDem films project has been developed by the NEIL (Neuro-Enhancement for Independent Lives) Programme at Trinity's Institute of Neuroscience with funding from GENIO. The videos are available to view for free online at freedemliving.com and are also available on DVD.
The initiative aims to increase public and professional awareness about the important issues of brain health and memory loss. A lack of understanding of how memory works means that people mistakenly accept memory loss as an inevitable consequence of normal ageing and fail to seek medical opinion, resulting in other diseases or disorders that can affect memory function (e.g. diabetes, hypertension) remaining undiagnosed.
Speaking about the project, Dr Sabina Brennan, Assistant Director of Trinity's NEIL Programme, commented: "People with dementia are stigmatised and this stigma leads to discrimination, depression, social isolation, delayed health-seeking behaviour and other negative outcomes. Stigma prevents open discussion, and promotes the false belief that nothing can be done for people with dementia. The problems created by stigma are serious but the solution may be simple - stigma can be reduced through the provision of accurate information about the disease, through the clarification of misconceptions and through the communication of empathetic feeling towards individuals diagnosed with the disease."
"We hope that this series of short films will encourage people to be proactive about their brain health, make important lifestyle changes that reduce risk factors, learn strategies that support declining abilities and seek medical advice in order to facilitate early intervention and diagnosis. The two-minute films are surprisingly fun and entertaining to watch so we hope that people of all ages will share them online with family and friends."
Hugh Kane, COO of Genio added: "This is a critical time for Ireland in addressing how we meet the needs of the increasing numbers of people with dementia and their carers. Genio is supporting a number of innovative dementia initiatives underway across the country and the FreeDem films represent an important step in not only increasing our understanding but also addressing our attitudes towards this condition."
What Can You Do to Keep Your Brain Healthy?
Brain health is intricately tied to the health of our body. Physical exercise not only helps your heart, it can increase the size of your hippocampus, the part of the brain crucial to making memories. Physical exercise also generates a chemical called BDNF, which acts like fertiliser for the brain, encouraging the growth of neural connections and new brain cells. You also need to keep socially active, as well, especially as you get older, because there's growing evidence to suggest that people who avoid getting lonely, reduce their risk of cognitive decline.
Top three ways to keep your brain stimulated:
- Challenge yourself. The satisfaction you get from doing things slightly beyond your comfort zone actually changes your brain chemistry, making you feel more positive.
- Change yourself. Novelty helps your brain. So it's good to experience new things, take on new situations and meet new people. Doing this will keep things fresh, with fewer dull moments.
- Learn something new. This encourages the growth of new brain cells and stimulates the connections between them.
When Should I be Concerned About my Memory?
Just because you have a memory problem doesn't mean you have a brain disease or even that it is permanent. Forgetting where you put your keys for the third time in a week or immediately forgetting the name of a person you've just been introduced to are normal memory lapses that you don't need to worry about. However there are some forms of forgetfulness that do warrant a visit to your doctor:
- If you get disoriented about where you are, or what time of day it is.
- If you get lost in a place you've been familiar with for years.
- If you start repeating the same story every day, without realising it.
Deciding when these memory problems warrant a visit to your doctor can be tricky, but a good question you could ask is: Are the problems interfering with life at home or at work, or affecting your quality of life? Some memory problems are treatable and even reversible. This is because they may be the symptom of another underlying condition such as stress, excessive alcohol use, anxiety or depression or even some medication that you are taking.