[Event Report] The 57th Breakfast Meeting: Losing Marbles!- Experiences of Early Treatment for Dementia-
HGPI’s 57th Breakfast Meeting featured Mr. Tomofumi Yamamoto, a journalist at Shukan Asahi Weekly Magazine diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) two years ago, who spoke on the topic of “Losing Marbles! Experiences of Early Treatment for Dementia.” Participants of the event provided positive feedback with statements including, “I was greatly encouraged” and “I was inspired to think about myself.” There were also various comments that led to an engaging discussion between the speaker and participants.
Speaker: Mr. Tomofumi Yamamoto (Journalist, Shukan Asahi Weekly Magazine)
His book “Losing Marbles!- Experiences of Early Treatment for Dementia” (Unofficial translation of title) (Bokete tamaru ka! 62 sai kisha ninchishou souki tiryou jittaiken rupo in Japanese) can be found here.
Date: March 8, 2016
Venue: EGG JAPAN (Tokyo Shin-Marunouchi Building)
■Before and after being diagnosed with MCI
About one year after I retired, I started experiencing memory loss more frequently. Although I never thought that I would lose cognitive ability, I found myself at the hospital being diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The doctor explained to me that 50% of those diagnosed with MCI who do not seek treatment or actively try to manage the disease are subsequently diagnosed with dementia within 4-5 years. After being diagnosed with MCI, I expressed my desire to maintain my current lifestyle and continue working, so I followed a recommendation by my doctor to participate in a day program, called Improving Cognitive Capacity. Although I was not able to continue working as before, through the day program, I was encouraged to continue to work and try to participate by various things including my supervisor, who told me that there are many people who face a similar situation which is exactly why he wants me to continue to work and write articles.
■Losing marbles! Five hours training a day
At the day program, I have been practicing many different type of training, including cognitive games, muscle training, music therapy, and drawing pictures. Although I had some difficulty in the beginning, I received, among other things, support from other participants, which helped me get accustomed to the activities. As the symptoms of MCI progressed and it became difficult to feel pain and move my muscles, I continued with the training which allowed me to feel pain again and move my body freely. After participating in this program for two years, there are improvements to brain wave and blood flow to the brain and I am now at lower risk of developing dementia. Additionally, compared to before, I think more clearly and I make fewer mistakes at work. The human brain has billions of cells; however, compared to other people, I have a large number of cells that are “broken.” Yet, there are number of brain cells that I have not yet used before this point, so, through training, such cells are being activated and can compensate for those parts that are no longer functioning.
■Preventing dementia: the importance of sleep, well balanced meals, resistance training, and early treatment
Dementia rates increase as age increases. One in 4 of those 65 and older and 8 of 10 of those 90 and older have dementia or experience cognitive impairment. The typical progression toward dementia is from a non-demented state, to mild cognitive impairment to dementia and those who are diagnosed with dementia cannot return to the previous stage. However, hope is not to be lost at the MCI stage as 7-40% of persons with MCI can recover if they address the issue early enough. In fact, there are many people who have returned to work after receiving treatment early on. Unfortunately, while existing treatments for dementia can slow the progression of dementia, they can neither stop the progression of dementia nor reverse the onset of dementia. Until effective drugs are developed, it is important to continue activities that prevent dementia, including sleep, well-balanced meals, and fairly challenging resistance training.
Moving forward, I would like to continue to work while engaging in training. Additionally, I would like to inform others that early treatment can delay the progress of cognitive decline and can even help people to regain cognitive abilities that were previously lost.
There are many people who despite being worried that they might have dementia or MCI are afraid of being diagnosed, which makes it difficult for them to get tested. I would like to know about the process that led you to being seen by a professional for your forgetfulness.
I was also afraid of diagnosis, but my strong desire to continue working pushed me to visit a doctor. At work, I double-booked an appointment, which made me realize that my ability to continue working was being compromised. However, it seems that some, including those in full retirement or homemakers, may have more difficulty deciding to see a doctor. When I speak about my experiences, several people ask for advice about how to bring a family member to the doctor. Yet, it is not uncommon to be diagnosed with memory-loss that is ageing-related. In response to memory loss, it is better to reduce barriers to accessing care.
Could you tell us more about your sleep?
As a journalist, my daily rhythm was irregular and sleeping hours were very short. When my memory loss became more serious, I also had symptoms of depression and I could hardly sleep. Thus, I was taking antidepressants and sleep medications for a while. However, after consulting with a doctor, I stopped taking sleep medications and I also changed my life style. After making such change, I started being able to sleep. A healthy lifestyle enables healthy sleep without the need for sleep medicine.
Did the attitudes of those around you, including family, friends, and colleagues, change after your MCI diagnosis?
I was not able to tell friends and colleagues about the diagnosis at first. However, without hiding my diagnosis at the day program center, I was able to engage in training with a group of about 30 people, who encouraged me and each other. Through this experience, I think my symptoms improved. Once those around me became aware of my condition, they became more patient with my mistakes and began to encourage me. Without support from others, engaging in treatment with positive attitude would be more difficult.
■Message for people in their forties and fifties
Until about 55 years old, I lived a life that was mostly filled with work and lots of late night drinking. I now realize that continuing such lifestyle is not very good. It would have been different if I have changed my lifestyle earlier. Exercising in my spare time would have helped reduce the onset of memory loss. This type of training is important for not only for persons MCI, but also for people without MCI or dementia. If you are worried even just a little bit that you have increased memory loss, I recommend the training.
■Closing (Kiyoshi Kurokawa)
Everyone experiences memory loss as they become older. Although there is no scientific evidence yet, I believe that the key to preventing dementia is to stimulate our brains and be creative through activities including, drawing pictures and calligraphy. Research conducted with students at MIT indicates that human brain waves are not activated through passive actions, such as listening to lectures or watching TV. It is important to think on our own and use our brains.