Across America, in every state, every town or city, there will be that one individual who once carried a vibrant, articulate and larger-than-life personality that is now found sitting stone-faced and distant as an anxious family member painfully observes his or her slow retreat into a terrifying world. The triggers may vary for the onset of this type of dementia, but the suffering for the entire family is a constant.
Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death, with approximately five million Americans living with this disease. The cost of Alzheimer’s in 2013 is slated to reach $203 billion, but even more staggering is the prediction that Alzheimer’s disease management may cost $1.2 trillion dollars by 2050.
As we learn more about this disease and we increase awareness about Alzheimer’s, I believe that there are strategies we can use to prevent the onset of dementia. Our celebrities that have battled Alzheimer’s, including Ronald Reagan and Rita Hayworth, have helped us to collectively understand the relevance of the toll Alzheimer’s can take on a family, a community and a society.
In the many discussions on Alzheimer’s, what often gets missed is that 60 percent of adults with mild cognitive impairment will progress to Alzheimer’s dementia. This is a missed opportunity in fighting and preventing this disease. If we can target our adults with mild cognitive impairment such as forgetting phone numbers, where you put the keys, birthdays, anniversaries, and appointments, we may have a real chance of preventing the slow decline into a world of dementia.
There are patterns that have been observed in practice that might help reverse or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Nutrition: Watch What You Eat
There is an Alzheimer’s prevention diet. Protein and healthy fats support the neurotransmitters and nutrients needed for ideal brain balance. Insulin regulation prevents inflammation. Achieving this balance requires a diet where 20 percent of intake is from healthy or good fats. Avocados, nut butters, flax seeds, coconut and olive oil are healthy fats that can support brain health and prevent the progression of cognitive impairment.
Don’t Let Stress Affect You As Much
Many patients have been seen diving into dementia following a traumatic event. They may have lost a loved one or had a financial upheaval. Managing stress prevents dementia. Consistent exercise, regular sleep cycles and self care regimens lower the impact of severe stress. Encourage your loved one to exercise daily, get outdoors and practice good “self love'” engaging in massage, acupuncture or yoga on a regular basis. Meditation and prayer are al
so ways to lower stress hormones and can be easily done at home.
Exercise Your Brain
One of the greatest fear for the elderly is that the gift of retirement is often a prescription for a decline in mental health. The brain is a plastic organ and requires challenge, critical thinking and structure to stay healthy and active. For seniors who are not working and are showing signs of cognitive decline, creating a brain gym may help to halt progression into dementia. Ideas for a brain gym include a four-hour work day, writing exercises like journaling or story telling, playing a musical instrument or cooking meals consistently.
Socialize and Mingle: Constant Interaction is Key
Once out of the workplace, many seniors find themselves with limited interactions or social opportunities. Like children, seniors need a village of people, preferably family, surrounding them. The connections and communications forge a sense of safety for seniors, especially when the world around them seems increasingly foreign. Encourage your family or community to rally around your seniors; engaging them, giving them responsibility and supporting them may be the best prescription for Alzheimer’s prevention.
There is No One Cure for All: Find that Specific Treatment for You
Within our practice, the emphasis on Alzheimer’s treatment and prevention is on identifying functional medicine defects in the body; for example, some patients require more antioxidants than others, some have issues with methylation, while others may have heavy metals or a body burden of toxic chemicals that impair cognition. For many women, hormonal fluctuations are at the root of a progression into dementia. Instead of one size fits all, Alzheimer’s management becomes an individual conversation with an individualized treatment plan. Finding the functional medicine deficit is a key to prevention and progression of this disease.