Patients and caregivers alike fear Alzheimer’s disease but caregivers find more and more that Alzheimer’s denial is just as fearful. Patients loath the thought of their brains deteriorating to the point where they may be unable to recognize their children. They fear losing the way home from a place where they have been many times or forgetting words or tasks they have known since childhood. Everyone knows Alzheimer’s takes a monumental toll. Patients and caregivers dread the heavy burden that will descend when a person is diagnosed with the disease.
Is avoidance of reality a reason why many persons refuse to take medications to stave off the disease’s symptoms and never seek a diagnosis? A news report by Aaron Wische says this avoidance and denial is becoming an alarming trend.
Interventions work in avoiding Alzheimer’s progression
Alzheimer’s denial and avoiding Alzheimer’s treatment cost patients and caregivers more in the end. It is true that Alzheimer’s cannot be cured or reversed. Yet it can be managed in order to slow down its impact and effects and prolong quality of life. Persons seeking to avoid or deny the disease’s reality should understand that taking appropriate medications and adopting proper lifestyle changes can yield additional years of quality life and may prevent the disease altogether. Alzheimer’s denial is not the route one should take.
Dr. Gary Small, a geriatric psychiatrist, Alzheimer’s expert, Director of the UCLA Longevity Center and a professor and author of the book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program, told Wische that the phenomenon of early Alzheimer’s patients refusing to take medicine is explainable because improvement takes time and early results are rare. Yet, he says, if patients stay the course and combine their medications with lifestyle adjustments, they will see results and probably enjoy a higher quality of life for a longer period. These measures slow the progression of the disease.
Lifestyle changes are crucial to prevent, slow Alzheimer’s progress
It is important to note that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease can be reduced and, once it takes hold, it can be slowed considerably. Dr. Small said in an interview at UCLA that preventive measures for Alzheimer’s really work. They can stave off the disease and prolong the onset of symptoms once the disease is present. Dr. Small makes the following lifestyle recommendations.
Beneficial measures include staying in good physical shape. This may involve losing weight and most definitely includes physical activity. Small noted that laboratory studies of animals showed bigger, better brains in physically active animals. Similarly, Small says, the brains of humans also enlarge in healthy ways when they exercise. Exercise reduces obesity, which can exacerbate many diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Dr. Small says several periods of physical exercise per week has been shown to cut a person’s future risk of memory decline by almost 50%.
Mental stimulation, physical activity, managing stress are great goals
Another lifestyle factor that prevents and ameliorates the symptoms of Alzheimer’s once it is present is mental stimulation. Dr. Small recommends learning a second language as an ideal activity, but reading, learning and playing mentally stimulating games also help.
The ability to manage stress well is a significant factor. According to Dr. Small, prolonged stress actually shrinks the brain’s hippocampal memory centers. In addition, cortisol, the stress hormone, has a deleterious effect on learning and memory. A mental stress management technique like meditation actually increases gray matter in the memory and learning sections of the brain.
Alzheimer’s prevention and symptom reduction also involve a diet full of antioxidants, such as berries, raisins, green leafy vegetables and foods that contain omega-3 fats, like nuts and fish. Whole grains, white meat, and low-fat yogurt are also good foods to stave off Alzheimer’s and its symptoms.
Alzheimer’s denial is not the answer: Good sleep, no smoking, reduced caffeine and alcohol
Other basic good health practices help, such as quitting smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, and sleeping well are also beneficial.
Only about 30% of Alzheimer’s cases are attributable to genetic factors. Even persons with the Alzheimer’s gene do not always contract the disease. About 70% of Alzheimer’s disease cases are related to lifestyle factors, not a genetic predisposition to the disease. Therefore, this seemingly uncontrollable disease can be tamed by lifestyle choices. This is good and hopeful news and a far better approach to coping with the Alzheimer’s threat than denial and avoidance.
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Levin, A. (June 12, 2013). For Now, Preventive Efforts Are Best Alzheimer’s Weapon. Psychiatric News. The American Psychiatric Association.
Lin, J. (January 31, 2012). 10 Questions, Alzheimer’s Expert. UCLA Newsroom. Available online at http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/10-questions-alzheimer-s-expert-228191. Accessed March 1, 2017.
Small, G. and Vorgan, G. (2012). The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. Workman Publishing Company.
Wische, A. (March 3, 2017). Trend Shows patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease aren’t being treated. Available online at http://www.click2houston.com/health/trend-shows-patients-with-early-stage-alzheimers-disease-arent-being-treated. Accessed March 9, 2017.