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I am a GP – what can I do?

I am a GP – what can I do?

There are plenty of ways GPs can step in and improve the brain health of patients through treatment or by giving lifestyle or diet advice. Read on for tips for GPs.

Brain and nervous system disorders result in more hospitalisations than any other disease group including heart disease and cancer. With an aging population, GPs can expect to encounter more elderly patients asking more questions about their brain health and cognitive functions like memory. The good news is that as a GP oftentimes you can reassure elderly patients worried about memory loss and also get them to take pro-active steps that might help protect their brain health. This can be by way of lifestyle advice or by treating conditions such as T2DM, high cholesterol and high blood pressure that can increase the risk of dementia in a person.


I am a family doctor, is there a good way to check out a memory complaint?

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Be reassuring to patients and praise healthy habits. Encourage behaviours that may be good for brain health and expound their potential benefits on brain function. Make patients aware that regular physical activity may help to protect brain function and is a life style factor that is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Tell patients that diets low in saturated fat and high in rich fruits and vegetables are not only good for their ticker but may also be good for that vital thinking organ, the brain. 

You can inform patients that smoking is associated with an increased risk of dementia, especially in males, but they can still cash in their chips by quitting – former smokers have a lower risk of dementia than current smokers. Moderate amounts of wine, is associated with a reduced  risk of developing dementia, but excess drinking or binge drinking can tip the scales and leave a patient more at risk.

GPs can also help patients when they treat certain conditions as a matter of course.

Treating high blood pressure may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia and it would appear that certain blood pressure medications in particular may have this benefit; we don’t know if this is due to a blood pressure lowering effect or an effect of specific types of blood pressure pills on the underlying disease process that causes the dementia.  

Keep an eye on cholesterol levels: most studies point to high midlife cholesterol as increasing the risks of developing dementia later on in life.

Treatment of depression seems to move cognitive function up a notch, though possibly not to normal levels.

Finally, prevention of falls and accidents and especially head injury and concussions is important for many reasons, but one of them is brain health because head trauma is associated with increased dementia risk.

Be aware that most of these studies look at huge populations so we can’t say for sure that reducing these risk factors will prevent dementia in any one person; however it makes perfect sense to take this approach until we have more definitive studies that prove that lifestyle interventions and risk factor reductions work on an individual basis. Illustration: Healthy brain

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