Alzheimer’s disease now constitutes nearly seventy percent of all dementias afflicting our senior population, with vascular events a distant runner up. Significant advances in the diagnosis, both by clinical cognitive testing, brain scanning technology and necropsy brain tissue analysis are leading us to earlier diagnosis and drug treatments that help delay the degenerative process– although this disease continues to an inevitably fatal conclusion once it reaches an advanced status.
We know that Alzheimer’s is caused by randomized plaques of amyloid and neurofibrillary tangles interfering with brain neurons ability to communicate with each other by disrupting the chemical neurotransmitters at the connection points. Unfortunately, this process starts in the memory and learning centers. In trying to preduct the disease, there is a blood test for the APOe gene carried by about 15% of the population; however, it is only a probability predictor of increased potential to acquire Alzheimer’s. Prevention remains the first tenet of any disease management and some of the recent research strongly suggests Alzheimer processes actually begin as young as the mid-thirty’s. Like every other organ system, brains need food as an energy source, oxygen, chemical precursors to build the message arcs across the nerve pathways and most important: brains need to work, to be challenged.
With increasing age comes a certain pragmatism that life is finite and most seniors with whom I talk have only two concerns, the first being a desire for a pain managed death that doesn’t drag on; but the other concern is a fear of losing cognitive faculties and becoming a burden to others and unable to make decisions for oneself. My own observations of thousands of seniors backed by published research suggests we need to focus on three aspects of brain before the onset of the diagnosis of cognitive loss. Firstly, AGGRESSIVE control of blood pressure, or any cardiovascular disease or blood clotting disorder interfering with brain circulation. Every brain deprived of oxygen and other blood carried nutrients withers and deteriorates. Get your blood pressure checked frequently or better yet learn to check your own.
Start reading food labels. Here are some suggestions for brain health: CHOLINE: the building block for acetylcholine the chemical message jumper where nerve fibres connect. It is found in soy, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, almonds and egg yolks to name some common sources. It is also in grapefruit, but that could interfere with medication digestion. OMEGA 3 fatty acids: found in fish, fish oil, nuts and seeds are essential for maintaining cognitive function. COMPLEX SUGARS: these are multiple molecule sugars found in starch and fibre foods NOT table processed sugar which cause wide swings in blood sugar levels when the brain needs a 24/7 continuum of energy. VITAMINS C and E are antioxidants that scavenge free radicals, rogue molecules that damage individual cell linings and the DNA inside them. Ready source of these vitamins include fruit, vegetable oils, seeds, corn and nuts. You can also get D and B vitamins in Kiwi, wheat germ, fish and fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin D and B complex are also essential. I’ve never been a fan of cross the board vitamin supplements but seniors are the exception. Read the labels, buy generic, buy on sale
My other caveats come from my own community-based observations. Seniors who engage in daily physical activity are far less likely to show premature cognitive loss. You don’t need a gym. Do it at you own speed within your physical limits Maintaining preferred regular social activities including observation of and attendance at family events. Volunteer in community support agencies. And finally, CHALLENGE YOUR BRAIN. Read. Do puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku, scrabble. Get yourself a computer to access the internet and discover how close you can bring this big world.
Dr. David Carll