June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, so it seemed fitting that I’d learn about a good friend with early onset dementia from Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Consequently, there has been a lot of conversation about “cognitive” and “brain training”- you “work out” the brain the same way you strength train muscles in order to retain memory and avoid dementia. But is it the same? Are there specific things that you can do that will help different parts of the brain? What if you already have signs of dementia?
A study of 10 patients with early stage AD has shown that the disease can be reversed. Reversal of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease. Lead by Dr. Dale Bredesen Professor at the Buck Institute for Aging, each person received a tailored made 36-point therapeutic program. This included combining comprehensive diet changes, brain stimulation, exercise, sleep optimization, specific drugs and vitamins, and other steps affecting brain chemistry. The Bredesen Protocol is now available at the APOE website.
All subjects showed memory improvement within the first few months and increasingly so over a two year period. All were able to return to their jobs or continue working with improved performance. The program works for patients in the early stages of the disease. Bredesen’s own daily protocol includes:
• eating a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables and good fats
• regular cardio exercise
• fasting at least 12 hours after dinner
• brain training exercises
• getting at least 8 hours of sleep
• a regimen of supplements to address each patient's deficiencies.
After 30 years of research Bredesen believes that the treatment of AD isn’t just in doing one thing but rather addressing a number of factors all at once.
In the Blue Zones, those parts of the world where people live the longest, dementia is almost unknown. The Blue Zones project offers 5 Scientifically Proven Tips that Prevent Dementia :
• Walk Daily Walking about 5 miles per week increases brain volume, and correlates well with prevention of AD and other forms of dementia. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle can more than double the risk of developing AD.
• Combat Depression A growing body of evidence supports the preventive effect of a positive attitude and purpose in life on mental decline. Strategies to help you in this endeavor include volunteering, appealing to a higher power (i.e. practicing a religion), meditating and using deep breathing techniques.
• Cut the smoking habit: Smoking actually doubles the risk for contracting AD. Luckily for current smokers, quitting seems to reduce these effects to that of a non-smoker.
• Learn New Hobbies: Knitting, playing board games or learning other crafts during mid-life can reduce memory loss by 40%-50%. Playing a musical instrument also helps protect cognitive function.
• Get Social: Socially active people have up to a 50% reduced risk of developing dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers 10 Ways to Maintain Your Brain. When we think about staying fit, we generally think from the neck down. But brain health plays a critical role in almost everything we do – thinking, feeling, remembering, working, playing – even sleeping. The good news is we now know there are things we can do to keep our brain healthier as we age – and these steps might reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s
1. Head first: Good health starts with your brain. It’s one of the most vital
body organs, and it needs care and maintenance.
2. Take brain health to heart: What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Do something every day to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke – all of which can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.
3. Your numbers count: Keep your body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels within recommended ranges.
4. Feed your brain: Eat less fat and more antioxidant-rich foods.
5. Work your body: Physical exercise keeps the blood flowing and may encourage new brain cells. Do what you can – like walking 30 minutes a day – to keep both body and mind active.
6. Jog your mind: Keeping your brain active and engaged increases its vitality and builds reserves of brain cells and connections. Read, write, play games, learn new things, do crossword puzzles.
7. Connect with others: Leisure activities that combine physical, mental and social elements may be most likely to prevent dementia. Be social, converse, volunteer, join a club or take a class.
8. Heads up! Protect your brain: Take precautions against head injuries. Use your car seat belts; unclutter your house to avoid falls; and wear a helmet when cycling or in-line skating.
9. Use your head: Avoid unhealthy habits. Don’t smoke, drink excessive alcohol or use street drugs.
10. Think ahead - start today! You can do something today to protect your tomorrow.
“Brain fog” is a common complaint among those with chronic conditions, but similar to preventing dementia, diet, sufficient sleep, exercise and even supplements can significantly help.
In looking at the various recommendations for preventing/reversing AD or dementia, as well as eliminating brain fog, the Power 9 of the Blue Zones is a good way to maintain health and protect the brain. It’s also easy to remember and isn’t “numbers” focused the way so much of American healthcare has become. These factors include: incorporating movement throughout your day; having a sense of purpose; de stress; modify diet where you eat until 80% full, plant slant (mostly fruits, beans, veggies with the occasional small portion of meat, and moderate alcohol (1-2 glasses of wine with friends and/or with food); belonging to- faith based community, family (put family first) and social circles that support healthy behaviors.
It is also important to protect your brain by avoiding drugs, smoking and excessive alcohol. Some studies are now showing that older people should avoid alcohol all together. Wearing a helmet and seat belts for sport and while driving, as well as de cluttering your home and office to avoid falls, can make a big difference in preventing a brain injury. Research continues to show a strong correlation with brain injury, which includes concussion, to AD, dementia and Parkinson’s Disease