Preventing Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease

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ASK DR. MINDY

MINDY KIM-MILLER, MD, PhD
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Question:

I have been caring for my parents for nearly a year now in their home. Mother has dementia and Dad is just old. Actually, they are both 89. Mom is allergic to all medication so we only can get through this. She is paranoid, will not allow help in the home (she even kicks me out on a weekly basis!) and does not like visitors, music, TV, etc. She threatens suicide regularly. A nursing facility would be tantamount to signing her death certificate. Her sight, even with glasses, is very poor so reading is out. She falls regularly, but so far no broken bones. The question is this: Mom is one of seven children, all but one has/had this condition. I guess one might say that my brother and I are pre-disposed. After being with her, there is no way I want to put my children through this. Is there anything we can do NOW to head off this potential problem? I’d appreciate any advice we can get.

–M.F.

Answer:

Dear MF,
Unfortunately there is no way to alter one’s genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease at this time. However, there are things you can do to try to delay the onset of the disease or slow its progression, if not prevent it.

Many studies have shown that exercise can prevent age-related memory loss. This may be because exercise improves blood circulation to the brain, making more oxygen and nutrients available and taking away more toxins and waste products. Mental exercise is also critical. The saying, “Use it or lose it,” is true in this case. It is important to exercise your brain every day by learning something new or doing activities that require concentration. Additionally, if you have a high level of education, you have already reduced your risk of Alzheimer’s compared to someone with less education. Some researchers theorize that using your brain may increase your “brain reserve” so that the brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s may not produce noticeable symptoms until a lot of damage has occurred. There are also some products on the market that may improve memory and prevent memory loss through mental exercise and stimulation.
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Good nutrition is also essential for maintaining good mental functioning. In general, healthy foods with high nutritional value seem to optimize mental functioning. Some studies suggest that foods and beverages high in anti-oxidants, such as vitamins C, E, and flavanoids (i.e. epicatechin and catechin), may be particularly effective in preventing memory loss. Beverages and foods that may be particularly effective in maintaining brain health include cocoa, blueberries, strawberries, spinach, walnuts, almonds, and other fruits, vegetables and nuts. The diet should also be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, and B vitamins, especially folate, B6 and B12. Dietary supplementation with the phospholipids, phosphatidylserine and glycerophosphocholin, and the energy nutrient, acetyl-L-carnitine, may also be helpful.

Another approach to preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s is to modify known medical risk factors for it. So it is important to prevent or treat hypertension, high homocysteine, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and obesity. It is also important to reduce stress and avoid things that can kill brain cells, such as alcohol, smoking, and recreational drug use.
There continues to be tremendous research on preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, so hopefully there will be more effective approaches in the near future.

Best of luck,

Dr. Mindy Kim-Miller is a trained medical physician who provides useful, but general answers to questions provided by online visitors. While Dr. Mindy can not provide specific medical advice or services, we hope you find her responses useful in your personal education. All information is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect you have an illness or disease, or a health related condition of any kind, seek professional medical care with an appropriate health care professional immediately. Do not postpone or delay seeking treatment or disregard professional advice based upon the general answers provided by Dr. Mindy. Dr. Mindy’s advice is not intended to substitute for a visit to your personal physician or other qualified health provider. Any specific medical concerns or questions you may have should be directed to your personal physician or other qualified health provider.

 

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