“I have memory problems, Doc. Is it Alzheimer’s?”
*Originally published in The Galveston County Daily News
By DR. VICTOR S. SIERPINA | Posted: Monday, September 19, 2016 11:00 pm
Forgot why you came into a room? Trouble remembering a name? Where are my keys?
More frightening for most of us than even a cancer diagnosis is the fear of dementia. While most of the time the kinds of questions above are simply a normal finding in a healthy older adult, such age-related memory changes or mild cognitive impairment bring excessive anxiety.
Is there anything possible to prevent or slow the progression of dementia as our global population ages? Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of the 5.1 million Americans 65 and older with dementia in 2015. It is the fifth-leading cause of death of Americans 65 and older. This epidemic is fueling scientists to study the biomarkers of the disease, nutrition, medications, vaccines and research strategies for the prevention and management of dementia.
Some areas under study include the potential of dietary omega-3 fatty acids, predominantly DHA, found in fish and fish oils. It has been shown in mice that DHA reduces beta-amyloid plaques, the abnormal protein deposits in the brain that are found in Alzheimer’s. Other studies have examined resveratrol and its effect on amyloid-beta 40 levels in the blood. Resveratrol is a bioactive compound found in red grapes, raspberries, red wine, and dark chocolate. Carotenoids found in red, orange and yellow vegetables have been studied for their protective effect.
Overall, strategies for preventing dementia mirror those we advise for heart health. Inflammation, ischemia, blood pressure, cholesterol, stress, diet and exercise all play important roles in both.
But while most memory issues are not a marker of progression to Alzheimer’s, when patients ask about what they can do, I offer several evidence-informed suggestions for prevention and improved memory.
Here’s my Top Ten:
1. Stay mentally challenged through games, learning and similar activities;
2. Maintain active social engagement;
3. Exercise a minimum of 30 minutes, four to six days per week;
4. Reduce stress with daily meditation, yoga, tai chi or other mind-body programs;
5. Sleep seven to eight hours per night;
6. Eliminate simple carbohydrates, processed food; eat at least 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily and non-farmed fish at least 12 days a week;
7. Take melatonin, methylcobalamin, vitamin D3, omega-3 fish oil and coenzyme Q10;
8. Fast for 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for three hours between dinner and bedtime each day;
9. Optimize oral hygiene to reduce inflammation; and
10. Try Gingko biloba 120 to 240 mg daily.
Next week, we’ll delve into the Alzheimer’s MIND diet which slowed cognitive decline an equivalent of 7.5 years. We will summarize findings from a novel, personalized, therapeutic program called MEND to actually reverse cognitive decline from UCLA’s research labs. We’ll also share how a local UTMB resource, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute may be part of your approach to slowing age related cognitive decline and dementia.
In the meantime, if you would like to join in community with family and friends from throughout the Bay Area on Oct. 8 for The Walk to End Alzheimer’s, please visit www.alz.org for walk information and guidance on resources.
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.