Mind Your Brain: The Essential Australian Guide to Dementia (UQP 2021) by consultant psychiatrist and psychogeriatrician Dr Kailas Roberts, is a comprehensive, well-researched, accessible and easy-to-read guide to all aspects of dementia, including how to reduce your risk and to delay the onset of dementia, and how to ‘ease the journey if the condition does occur’.
While over 400 000 Australians currently live with dementia, there are many myths and misunderstandings about what causes the condition, and what can be done to treat it. This book is aimed at the average person – all or any of us – who may be facing the onset of dementia, or who are carers for someone with the condition. It is full of practical advice and suggestions, meticulous research and data analysis translated into an easily understood form, anecdotal evidence and general suggestions about how to make life easier and more manageable if dementia is part of your world. As a practising medical professional with a wealth of experience with patients and all forms of dementia, Dr Roberts explains how the condition affects the brain and body, what to expect, and how to manage the challenges that may arise. This is a resource not only for those with dementia and their carers, but also for ‘anyone who wants to maintain a healthy brain’.
Some of the more common myths that Dr Roberts debunks are that everyone gets dementia in the end, that if you don’t have memory loss then you don’t have dementia, that it is definitely hereditary, and that there’s not much you can do re treatment, so therefore there is no point in being assessed. All of these are erroneous views and the author points out that the earlier someone is identified and assessed, and the more vigorous the relevant treatment options, the better chance that symptoms and decline can be managed and/or avoided. Dr Roberts says: ‘My goal in writing this book is to empower those experiencing dementia and those caring for them with knowledge and advice.’ He has based his writing on extensive informed reading, regular discussions with other medical professionals and allied health colleagues, and the personal conversations he has had over many years with those experiencing dementia and their carers. He says that while there are ‘some inescapable and unpalatable truths’ about dementia, ‘the message implicit in this book is that there is hope’.
The first section of the book interrogates the science behind our minds, examines what a healthy brain looks like, and describes what dementia is and how it changes our brains. How does a brain function? What are cognitive functions? How does our brain interact with other bodily functions such as movement, memory, language and emotions? Useful diagrams demonstrate the facts in a visual way. Dr Roberts discusses ‘normal ageing’ and how to tell the difference between that and the onset of dementia. The next very helpful section talks about how we can prevent cognitive decline, and covers such issues as diet, exercise, socialisation, the use of drugs and alcohol, sleep, stress and continually challenging your brain to keep it healthy. I love the acronym he has developed that summarises what we can do to preserve brain function: ‘BRAINSCAN’:
‘Be calm and happy
Investigate vascular health
Nurture friendships and socialise
Say what? Correct hearing loss
Complex mental activity
Chapter 4 discusses the benefits (or otherwise) of various supplements and vitamins.
The book then moves on to the area of reversible cognitive impairment, the psychological and physical conditions that may be associated with dementia, and the grey area which is ‘more than ageing but not dementia’. This is followed by causes and common features of dementia. Dr Roberts devotes a chapter to Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia, and another to Frontotemporal, Alcohol-related and Subcortical Dementias.
Part Two of the book discusses living with dementia, including the assessment process, the involvement of various medical professionals, the importance of medical history, and how psychological, physical and emotional functions are assessed and determined, including medical investigations and tests. The next section is all about dealing with a diagnosis and how confronting that can be for both the patient and their loved ones, practical ways to manage cognitive loss, and dealing with some of the unfortunate or unwanted behavioural symptoms that may arise. The author discusses drug regimes, sleep, eating and mobility. There are chapters on sexual and skin health and pain. Finally, the book concludes with a section on caring and support – what is available in your state, how to access services, the need for communication, legal issues and advanced care planning, ethics, consent and elder abuse. A special section is set aside to address the stress of carers and how and where they can obtain support. Residential care is considered, as is the importance of cultivating happiness and meaning despite a dementia diagnosis, and how to approach dying and end-of-life care. It includes an exhaustive list of resources.
Mind Your Brain is a comprehensive, informative, educative, accessible, empathetic and empowering guide to the challenges of dementia, with practical suggestions to avoid despair and to cultivate hope.