My Mother is 78 and very anxious about the possibility of getting Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, touch wood, my mother is very spritely, intelligent and healthy. In my mind I perceive her as being aged in her 50s or 60s, not approaching 80, and I have to remind myself of the reality.
Due to her anxiety she began to read the book by Jean Carper, “100 Simple Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s And Age – Related Memory Loss.” I’m in my 40s and I tell you there are times when I feel like I’m having Alzheimer moment myself rather than my mother. I’ll be having a discussion with someone, an idea will pop into my head but I will forget a name, place or event and will be unable to conceptualise my thoughts and argument. It is unbelievably frustrating. So I was just as eager as my mother to read this book and implement some of the ideas.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks neurons in the brain, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioural changes as it destroys the cells in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex. Regions of the brain affected by the disease become clogged with two abnormal structures called neurofibrillary tangles (tau proteins) and amyloid plagues (insoluble deposits of beta amyloid proteins.) This clogging interferes with normal communications of nerve cells in the brain. Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and in fact, scientists are still conducting research to discover the causes of the disease.
However, Jean Carper notes that researchers no longer view Alzheimer’s as a sudden brain catastrophe of old age. It is in fact a continuum of disease that spans decades and is influenced by early, midlife and late-life factors such as nutrition, infections, education, diabetes and mental and physical activity. Given this, she concludes that we can lessen our risk of getting AD or defer its onset by being socially, physically and mentally healthy, and she suggests 100 ways to achieve this. I would like to share some of her findings with you.
Firstly, diet. She recommends eating in moderation as being overweight in midlife can lead to brain shrinkage, which increases the risk of AD. High blood pressure and diabetes also hasten brain aging. Eat foods high in antioxidants as they form a defence system against free radicals that can degenerate the brain. The foods highest in antioxidants are berries ( blueberries, raspberries, elderberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries) raisins, artichokes, prunes, black currants, plums, garlic, dates, cherries, figs, red cabbage, apples with peel, red lettuce, pears with peel, asparagus, sweet potato, broccoli, oranges, beet greens, avocado, red grapes, radishes and spinach. Stay away from foods with high salt and sugar levels (such as soft drinks) as these can raise your blood pressure levels. Drink juice, especially apple juice. Apple juice boosts the production of acetylcholine. Carper recommends 2 cups a day, though I think my dentist may not be too happy with that. Eat low GI foods like oats, legumes and vegetables. Eat nuts, especially walnuts and almonds. Eat fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring. Tuna and salmon also have the Vitamin Niacin, which is she highly recommends. It is also found in chicken and turkey breast, peanuts and some cereals. Add turmeric, cumin and cinnamon to your food. Use olive oil and vinegar as salad dressings rather than dressing high in Omega 6 fats. Stay away from Omega 6 fats found in corn oil, soya bean oil, and margarine. Saturated fats and Trans fats are brain enemies. So restrict your intake of fast foods. Substitute Omega 3 fish oils or monounsaturated fats. Omega 3 fish oil stimulates neuronal birth. Don’t eat too much red meat or processed or cured meats. Make sure you are not deficient in Vitamin B and D. Eat choline rich food such as eggs, wheat germ, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, almonds, shrimp, fish, spinach, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Drink alcohol moderately. One glass of red wine a day can be beneficial. There are also benefits to drinking tea, coffee and chocolate high in flavanols. Treat yourself to dark chocolate. It boosts blood circulation in the brain. Control bad cholesterol. Get tested for celiac disease.
Regular aerobic exercise is crucial. A brisk walk every day, especially in nature, stimulates the birth and growth of brain cells. Ensure that you have good balance. When playing contact sports make sure your head is protected from injury. When you are middle aged take the following tests – carotid artery ultrasound, echocardiogram and an ankle-brachial index. These will detect any cardio problems. Meditate to reduce stress. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and pollution. Look after your eye,s as the eyes reflect and influence how your brain functions. Take care of your teeth, as infection causing gum disease can give off inflammatory by-products that travel to the brain. Keep copper out of your system. Only take iron supplements if prescribed by your doctor.
Don’t be a recluse. Social interaction stimulates the brain. It is the reason why a good marriage or relationship can help ward off AD. The happier you are, the more optimistic and conscientious your attitude the more resistant you are to AD. Depression is a risk factor for AD as are sleeping disorders.
As the saying goes: “use it, or lose it.” The same goes for brain reserves. Carper recommends continued higher education, learning a language or a new skill or activity, the emphasis being on “new.” Use the internet for brain games and google. Have a stimulating job.
AD is a very sad disease for all involved. I have visited old age care facilities where clients are left sitting in chairs on their own with very little mental stimulation. This book is certainly proof that more needs to be done to improve the care provided to these elderly people. I remember when I was in Brownies and Girl Guides and going to nursing homes to sing Christmas carols. Maybe we should have visited more regularly to play scrabble, chess or to read. I also remember thinking that I hope I don’t become like these elderly people in the future.
Carper’s book is definitely food for thought, though some suggestions are based on preliminary research and further research is needed in many areas. If you know someone suffering from Alzheimer’s you may be disappointed by this book. I also note that there are numerous people who have been active physically and intellectually but have been unfortunate to have contracted AD. My other criticism of the book is that it is repetitive and could be more concise. Some suggestions also need to be considered with reference to other research such as the suggestion to use nicotine patches, drink lots of caffeine and to take supplements. Overall, this book supports healthy eating and regular physical and mental activity and who can argue with that! I for one will take on some of her suggestions.
As a postscript, this month, a team of researchers at the University of Newcastle announced that they believe they have developed a predictive blood test that will detect signs of AD before symptoms appear. Prof Moscato said “If biological markers for Alzheimer’s were detected early it would allow people to make lifestyle changes, such as more exercise”.
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