Alzheimer’s disease kills more people in the U.S. than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. It’s now the number one killer in England and Wales. There’s a new case in the world every three seconds.
And while there are no treatments that can reverse or even stop its progression, recent research has shown that certain protocols, mostly lifestyle related, can improve symptoms, slow down the rate of neurological decline, and help prevent the disease from taking over in the first place.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. A key point in understanding this medical trend is that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. While true that the majority of people afflicted are 65 and older, it’s not just a disease of old age. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have symptoms (often referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s).
Alzheimer’s represents about 75 percent of all cases of dementia, the more inclusive term for a neurocognitive disorder which damages brain cells. So not all Alzheimer’s patients do well on protocols of other forms of dementia which include vascular dementia caused by heart related issues, Parkinson‘s disease which can lead to physical disabilities, Huntington’s disease which is genetically caused, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare, fatal degenerative brain disorder.
The current cost of Alzheimer’s disease is about a trillion US dollars a year, and that’s forecast to double over the next decade. This figure includes an estimated cost for informal caregivers, the people who suddenly find themselves acting as 24-hour live in nurses to parents, husbands or wives. The annual global number of informal care is estimated at about 82 billion hours.
The highest rates of Alzheimer’s are in the U.S. and northern European countries which are among the world’s wealthiest nations. Only recently has research come up with probable risk factors and effective protocols.
WHO’S AT RISK
According to the Alzheimer’s Association the disease likely develops from multiple factors including genetics, lifestyle, and environment.
Some of the strongest evidence links brain health to heart health. This connection makes sense since the brain requires a significant, steady flow of blood in order to operate efficiently. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels all increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
Another leading risk factor is not usually considered: hearing impairment.
Hearing loss has been identified as one of the top modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care. In two studies at Johns Hopkins University for every 10 decibels of hearing lost, the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s increased by 20 percent.
The problem is that while studies suggest that restoring hearing loss often protects cognitive function, effective hearing aids are expensive. The hearing aids offered through Medicaid are based on the most elementary technology which often provides only minor improvement. Effective (and much more expensive) hearing aids use modern computerized technology and are fitted and finely tuned by a trained audiologist.
NO MAGIC PILL
Since 1998, 100 drugs have been tested, only four have been authorized for use, and these have limited success. These drugs can’t cure Alzheimer’s or any form of dementia, but can relieve some of the mood swings and anxiety associated with the ailment. Many experience some improvement in motivation, concentration, and memory. But improvements only tend to last 6-12 months and then the drugs lose their efficacy.
Dr. Martha Clare Morris, Director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, is a pioneer in effective dietary interventions to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Her research found that eating two or more servings of fresh vegetables per day offered a statistically significant reduction in cognitive decline.
Green leafy vegetables, in particular, were associated with slower decline, and people who ate green leafy vegetables at least six times a week exhibited much slower cognitive decline. Her MIND diet, based on berries, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, cold deep-water fish such as salmon and cod, beans, poultry and moderate amounts of wine has been tested successfully over many years.
Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School believes there is a connection between the rising number of Alzheimer’s cases and the greater amounts of nitrogen-based chemicals added to our food over the past few decades. Along with nitrogen-based fertilizers they include nitrates and nitrites, which are used to preserve, color and to flavor processed foods.;
Toxins in the food supply are also the likely reason why Finland and other Northern European countries have high rates of Alzheimer’s. Finns consume about 72 pounds of fish per year. Studies reveal the fish they eat have unhealthy amounts of mycotoxins and heavy metals. Other countries in the Nordic region with similar ecosystems are known to experience higher rates of Alzheimer’s as well.
Dr. Dale Bredesen of the UCLA Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research identifies these keys: “Chronic stress, a lack of exercise and restorative sleep, toxins from molds, and fat-laden fast foods. Even too much sugar, or being pre-diabetic, heightens risk. If you look at studies, you see the signature of insulin resistance in virtually everyone with Alzheimer’s. If you look at all the risk factors, so many of them are associated with the way we live.” TJ
While science may someday concoct medication that alleviates suffering from Alzheimer’s, the studies emerging all over the globe are showing that the rise of this disease is related to lifestyle changes of the last 50 years that have resulted in poor, processed-food dominated eating habits, excessive stress, a lack of exercise and environmental factors – like so many of the ills affecting societies at large.