There is no single Alzheimer's treatment, but regular brain training, social stimulation, keeping to regular routines, and maintaining a healthy diet can all help to slow the decline.
Sadly, there is still no known cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, but scientific advances have improved our understanding of the condition.
New Alzheimer's treatments are being developed, and promising research is underway. In the meantime, there are ways to slow down the decline.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can seem hopeless and life-shattering, but it is possible to make a difference to both the quality of life and the progression of the disease. By modifying lifestyle, we can slow the rate of decline and improve memory, communication and function, so that your loved one can stay independent for longer.
Challenging and stimulating the brain in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can slow down the disease progression.
Playing puzzles, reading, doing a crossword or becoming an internet silver surfer can all help to maintain cognitive function.
An active social life can be therapeutic as well as fun.
People who mix with others are less prone to depression and memory problems than those who are more isolated.
Day-centres, societies and elderly groups can be a source of support and stimulation.
Maintaining a familiar environment and set schedule can improve cognitive abilities and a sense of wellbeing.
If your loved one is struggling to manage alone, home carers can share the strain and provide support and a helping hand.
This can enable the individual to stay in their own home for longer, which in itself will improve their function as well as maintain their independence and dignity.
Food for thought
Food is more than a source of energy. As well as fuelling our body and our brains, it contains vital micronutrients to drive healthy brain function.
There is evidence that a Mediterranean diet can help prevent memory loss. It’s not about pasta and pizza, instead, it’s a way of eating with lots of fresh produce.
Tuck into a rainbow assortment of fresh fruit and veg, plenty of fish, pulses, nuts and seeds and healthy fats from olives and avocados.
Vitamins E and C and beta-carotene are all antioxidants, acting to protect the brain from dangerous cell damage.
Boost intake with lots of dark green leafy vegetables, salad fruits and fresh or frozen berries.
Spice of life
Did you know that India has amongst the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s Disease in the world? It’s thought to be because of the spices in their diet.
Curries are rich in turmeric; it contains the chemical curcarin, which scientists believe can stop the progress of dementia. So, there’s a good excuse for a delicious dhansak tonight.
An active life
An active body helps to maintain an active mind.
Exercise can help prevent dementia and slow down the speed of deterioration.
Research has shown that doing some exercise 3 times a week was productive, but you don’t have to join a gym or run a marathon. Walking every day, taking the stairs, playing sport with the grand kids or even taking up ballroom dancing can all have an impact.
Studies have shown that people with stronger leg muscles have better mental function as they grow older, so stay strong and active.
There are some factors that increase the risk of developing dementia. By controlling these, you may slow disease progression.
So, get blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked by your GP. Try and maintain a healthy BMI and ensure that any diabetes is carefully controlled.
Smoking can also increase the risk of dementia and other conditions, so although I know it’s tough to quit, it's very important that you do. You can find out about help and support here.
A little of what you fancy
A diagnosis of dementia can be devastating and with all the medical advice, it can seem like there is little joy. But having Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean giving up all of life’s little pleasures.
A small glass of red wine contains antioxidants that can actually slow down memory loss. But less is definitely more, stay below 14 units, or memory and function could deteriorate.
A cup of tea is also packed with chemicals that can prevent brain damage and a little chocolate hit could also help. Cocoa contains antioxidants called flavanols, which can protect the brain from harm, but keep to the dark side and avoid sweet, milky bars, for greater benefit.
Medications have been developed which can act to slow down the progression of the disease. These can be prescribed by a GP or hospital specialist and include:
- Cholinesterase Inhibitors like Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine) or Razadyne (galantamine). These drugs can be effective for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and may help to control distressing and disturbing hallucinations. They can slow down the heartbeat, so an ECG may be done before starting treatment. Side effects can include nausea and vomiting, but this usually settles within a couple of weeks.
- Memantine or Ebixa blocks the effects of the chemical glutamate in the brain. It can be used to treat severe Alzheimer’s but may also be useful for people with more moderate disease, for whom acetylcholinesterase inhibitors have been ineffective or not tolerated.
There are also a number of other medications like antidepressants and antipsychotics that can be used to treat low mood, agitation and anxiety or disturbed and difficult behaviour.
Something for the future
There is exciting early research into a dementia treatment that has been on our supermarket shelves for years. It’s based on findings suggesting that Alzheimer’s may be partially due to a problem with the brain cell’s ability to take-up and use glucose for fuel. A sort of diabetes of the brain.
The brain cells die due to lack of energy. But glucose isn’t the only fuel, fats can be burned to form ketones, which are more easily taken up by the brain cells. A type of fats called medium chain triglyceride oils (MCT) are easily burned to make ketones.
One trial showed that just a single dose of these oils improved the cognition and memory of more than half the people that took it. But are they super-expensive and tricky to find? No. They’re found in abundance in coconut oil. Maybe food really can be our medicine.
There are trials being run to confirm the initial findings, but in the meantime, MCT are found in full-fat dairy produce as well as coconut oil, so a few dietary tweaks as part of a healthy balanced diet, are unlikely to cause any harm.