When Dad was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you wished we knew what could have been done to prevent it. Now that you have dementia, I wish the same thing. Many of my generation are wondering about their parents’ Alzheimer’s and dementia… and what it suggests about their own futures. One good friend, Helen Armstrong, recently sent me information about some new findings.
Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Center on Aging, says, “The idea that Alzheimer’s is entirely genetic and unpreventable is perhaps the greatest misconception about the disease. He compares Alzheimer’s to heart disease and cancer, which can be developed over decades and influenced by cholesterol, blood pressure, depression, education, nutrition and sleep, etc.
There are simple things we all can do to reduce our chances of Alzheimer’s. The big one that you and Dad did NOT do, Mom, was drink 3-5 cups of coffee each day. You both loved the smell of coffee brewing, but your stomachs didn’t like the effects of drinking coffee. Even now, when I visit you each month and sneak in my own big mugs of coffee to heat in the microwave early the next morning, you sniff and smile at the smell but don’t want even a sip.
A second preventative suggestion is to floss and brush your teeth daily to discourage the inflammation in a diseased mouth from traveling to the brain. (Teeth brushing was always big at our house, though I remember arguing about the flossing.)
A third suggestion is to nurture the thousands of new brain cells we have each day with aerobic exercise, brisk walks, eating salmon and other fatty fish, and treating vitamin B deficiency. Oh-oh, in Kansas we didn’t eat much salmon—certainly not fresh—but we did take our vitamins, and you walked Fritz (or rather, he walked you).
This next suggestion you’ll like, Mom: drink apple juice to push production of the “memory chemical” acetylcholine. That’s the way the popular Alzheimer’s drug Aricept works, according to Thomas Shea, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts. A suggested dose for humans is 16 ounces of real juice (not apple-flavored drink) or 2-3 apples per day.
A final example I chose supports your rule when we were growing up: “Cokes and other soft drinks are only for very special occasions.” Studies now confirm that sodas, especially those sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, make lab animals dumb and aren’t good for humans either. But adult women who drink one glass of red wine each day are helping their brains with the antioxidants.
Hmm. Wish we’d known some of this a decade ago, Mom. But as Dad often said, “Hindsight is always 20/20 vision.” We did the best we could then, and even though you and Dad didn’t drink coffee or wine, our family ate meals together, talking and laughing and serving seconds of garden-grown vegetables and beef purchased from 4-H carefully-raised cattle. And every Sunday night we watched TV together, eating a meal of fresh-popped pop corn and mounds of sliced apples. You did the best you could with what you knew about good health, and you and Dad stirred in huge quantities of love and common sense. Thanks to you both, Mom. Love, Marylin
Jean Carper’s book, 100 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PREVENT ALZHEIMER’S AND AGE-RELATED MEMORY LOSS (Little, Brown), contains helpful and specific suggestions for adults, children, families.