Prevention is the best medicine

What sort of changes can I make in my diet and exercise regimen to prevent Alzheimer’s?
Acting Now

Dear Acting Now,
This is a relatively new approach to fighting Alzheimer’s, and applies to just about all disease and aging processes – not just Alzheimer’s disease. Eating healthy and exercising is becoming more and more relevant in the prevention of all disease processes. Of course we know that Alzheimer’s disease is a regressive, degenerative brain disorder – not just a “little memory problem” that can easily be reversed. However a healthful diet and regular exercise is the first step in trying to prevent or slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.

The most commonly touted diet for Alzheimer’s disease prevention is a typical Mediterranean diet – one that is high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil, and lean proteins and leaves out refined sugar and carbohydrates. I am far from being a diet, exercise or nutrition advisor, so talk to a nutritionist or your doctor for more specific answers to your dietary questions. If you’re searching on your own, the Mayo Clinic  and WebMD have some good information to get you started. As with all diet and or exercise programs, discuss major dietary and exercise changes with your doctor.

I have had the opportunity to attend the Dementia Congress for five of the last seven years, and in 2007 they presented a strong emphasis on the value of diet and exercise (this might be good resource to investigate, as the Dementia Congress has made much of their dietary information available on CD). In general, 30 minutes of exercise 3-7 times per week is recommended to help boost brainpower. There are also programs such as Maintain your Brain (by the Alzheimer’s Association), and a fair number of books published on the subject of Alzheimer’s prevention that include tips for ways to change behaviors to improve the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways.

This is clearly not my area of expertise, but it is an area of focus so many people – from scientists to laypeople – that information is readily available. I do believe that it makes everyone feel less fearful and helpless to know that we can take some preventative measures in determining our own potential health outcomes. Fortunately, there are a growing number of studies that indicate there is great potential for senior health when a person follows such regimens.

Dealing with anger & hurt

My father, who has Alzheimer’s, has gone through so much in the last couple of months. My mother died, we determined he couldn’t live alone, we took him out of his home, and now he is living in an assisted living community. He is very angry, and calls me all the time at work. I don’t know how to talk to him anymore and I don’t know if he is in the right living situation. What can I do? I just feel like there is no right answer.
Feeling Miserable in Denver

Dear Miserable,
Your father isn’t the only one who has gone through a lot in the last couple of months; you have gone through all of this too. It is natural for this to be an overwhelming and difficult time for both you and your father; you’re in the midst of the grief process – not only due to the loss of your mother, but the loss of your father as you always knew him. Is it possible for you to get involved in an intensive grief group in the area? It would be so helpful for you to take one of the most important steps in caregiving – taking care of yourself.

Your father has reason to be angry- and it is a part of the grieving process. In addition, he can’t really process these changes because of his cognitive impairment. He is very likely to continue to ask for your mother, as he often will not be able to remember that she has died. That subject is covered in #1 of the Ten Absolutes: Never Argue, Always Agree. Because of his memory impairment; he will not only have forgotten that your mom has died, but if you remind him he will first relive the terrible news that she has died, then forget that you reminded him.

So, the best thing to do when he brings her up is to answer honestly, “I haven’t seen her today.” Then change the subject as quickly as you can. You are likely to have the opportunity to repeat this conversation several times, which will help you practice and get better at your response. In addition, while sorting through your mind for better subjects to bring up, make notes about all the good subjects and favorite objects or activities you and your father like to do. With this list, you can plan visits and enjoy them by focusing on changing disagreeable subjects to ones that are more pleasant, and focusing on how much you love your father as a person – regardless of the challenges you may be facing.