Dementia is notoriously difficult to see before it happens. Risk factors can be determined, such as family history, prediabetic conditions or diabetes, heavy drinking, smoking, and high cholesterol, but the actual condition has no symptoms until significant damage has already occurred. Detection is complicated by the fact that even the early symptoms of cognitive decline are often taken as ordinary signs of aging. However, researchers are learning ways to recognize dementia early on, and possibly reverse or treat the damage. It seems the depression and irritability associated with dementia often appear before the more obvious signs, such as memory loss, begin to show themselves.
Dementia isn’t just memory loss and confusion, though those are the most visible manifestations of the condition. It is commonly thought that dementia patients respond to cognitive difficulties with depression, irritability, and anger. While that is partly responsible, those responses are also part of the same changes in brain structures that are responsible for dementia in the first place; they are direct symptoms as well as a response to symptoms. Now it has been discovered hat they are among the earliest symptoms, and that sudden irritability or sudden depression are indications that screening for dementia may be in order.
When signs of dementia are spotted early, it may still be possible for doctors to take steps to address the problem and also for people to take preventative measures to minimize further damage. Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, has been called "type 3 diabetes" in reference to the overlap in risk and causative factors between the two conditions, and losing weight, stopping smoking, eating a healthier diet, and reducing alcohol can all keep dementia at bay. Mental activities, such as crossword puzzles, can also help, as can maintaining an active social life. Learning new things can provide intellectual exercise that helps keep cognition strong.
One study has found evidence that eating walnuts might have some beneficial effects on cognition and stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s. Regardless of other risk factors, study subjects of all ages who had eaten walnuts performed better on cognitive tests than those who had not. The connection is unknown, the study does not prove that walnuts prevent dementia, and no clear mechanism has been found, but walnut consumption is linked to cognitive protection.