Can Alzheimer's Be Prevented?
Years ago, when Mama first got lost running errands in our small home town, we knew. As she began searching for words to complete her sentences, and repeating the same stories over and over, we knew. As her four older siblings each died of neurodegenerative diseases, we knew. Four years ago, what we already knew was confirmed after Daddy took her to the doctor for a diagnosis. Mama has Alzheimer’s.
In 2019, we finally had to put my mom in a nursing home because we were no longer able to care for her at home. She has since lost the ability to walk and only communicates with one word sentences or a nod of the head. Because of the pandemic lock-downs and our inability to visit her for an entire year she no longer remembers us at all. She shows no recognition when we are able to talk to her through that despised Plexiglas barrier that keeps us from touching her at all. This disease has robbed my mother and her family of the joy of new great-grandchildren, of family get-togethers, of church and social events that she would have enjoyed. It took her life long before her life was over. This same tragedy is occurring daily in families all over our country. Every person I know has a family member or friend who has some form of dementia. There are around 6.2 million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s today, and the future looks even bleaker. Experts estimate that unless we develop a cure, there will be almost 14 million people with the disease by 2060. So if you are currently in your 30’s, that is something that should cause you to take note!
As a result of her illness, I began reading everything I could about the causes of dementia and neurodegenerative diseases in order to understand what was happening to my mother and see if there was any hope for her to get better. I also wanted to know if I could postpone or prevent this disease in myself, in case I am more vulnerable genetically to developing it. Since it obviously runs in my mother’s family, there may be a predisposition or genetic connection, so prevention is of utmost importance for both my children as well as for me.
Alzheimer’s was the 6th leading cause of death in the United States in 2019. The number of deaths due to the disease has increased by 145% since the year 2000. Currently, we have a one in ten chance of developing Alzheimer’s by age 65 and a 50% chance of developing it by age 80 – that’s one in every two people who live into their 80’s! These statistics are staggering! If the odds get worse than that, we will practically all die of dementia! I do realize that we have a 100% death rate as a consequence of sin, nevertheless we have a responsibility to take care of our bodies and try to live a productive Christian life for as long as possible. So understanding the causes and possible preventative treatments for Alzheimer’s could help us to lengthen our effectiveness as a servant in God’s kingdom.
Taking care of our health is a Biblical teaching. I wanted to share some verses of Scripture concerning caring for our bodies as an important stewardship before God. He has gifted us with life and it is our responsibility to nourish it and use it for His glory. Hopefully these verses will encourage us to do what is necessary to keep ourselves healthy in order to be better caretakers of the body God has given us.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7:1
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 John 1:2
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, Ephesians 5:29
Now, back to the topic of Alzheimer’s…
There is no clear agreement among doctors or researchers as to the cause of Alzheimer’s. It appears that there may not be one single cause, but a multitude of contributing factors that put people at risk for the disease. Scientists studying the causes of Alzheimer’s have determined several risk factors that may contribute to the development of the disease:
1. Age: Most people do not develop Alzheimer’s symptoms until they are between 65 and 80. This doesn’t mean that the disease suddenly appears in old age, however. Most researchers agree that there are changes quietly taking place in the brain and body before the appearance of the first symptom. Once symptoms do appear there is no cure that can reverse the disease. It is possible to slow down the progression, but not to stop it altogether. This is why prevention is so important.
2. Head injury: There is a strong link between head injuries and future development of dementia. This being the case, it is important to protect our both our own head and the heads of our sweet children and grandchildren by wearing helmets when playing sports or riding bikes, etc. and wear a seatbelt while riding or driving in a motor vehicle.
3. Heart health: The brain is nourished by the blood supply that carries oxygen and other nutrients through it. When the heart is weakened, that obviously affects the brain’s ability to function well. Heart disease, high cholesterol, and stroke are all risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s. Any preventative treatment for heart disease will also help to prevent dementia.
4. Metabolic syndrome: Alzheimer’s is sometimes called Type 3 Diabetes, or Diabetes of the brain. Studies have shown that the risk of developing dementia is doubled in those who are diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes by age 60. High blood sugar causes damage to blood vessels and nerve tissue which can cause damage in the brain leading to future dementia.
5. Menopause: The lack of estrogen experienced by women after menopause has been linked to the development of heart disease. In addition, studies have found that the lack of estrogen during menopause causes the brain’s metabolism to slow down and become less efficient. This causes post-menopausal women’s brains to age faster and the effects of Alzheimer’s to progress more rapidly.
6. Other things that researchers have been looking at are the effects of chronic stress on the brain, lack of meaningful relationships, lack of sleep, the use of alcohol and tobacco, poor diet, lack of exercise, and gum disease, all of which have been linked to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
As a woman over 50, my health began to show decline about a year after menopause. Two years ago, for the first time in my life, my “numbers” were terrible at my yearly checkup. My total cholesterol was 273 and my triglycerides were a whopping 250. I was 40 pounds overweight and my blood pressure, which had always been around 110/70 was 123/82. I was in shock! What in the world was happening to me? I was in a constant brain fog and was experiencing hot flashes that felt like anxiety attacks all during the day and night. I was not a well person at all! It was then that I realized I was on the way to having a heart attack just like my mother did after menopause, and perhaps from there to further develop Alzheimer’s just as she had. I want to be like my mother, but “like mother like daughter” where health was concerned was not something to which I aspired!
In order to take control of my own health and institute the needed changes to my lifestyle and habits, I began reading books and following wellness experts for their advice. My favorite podcasts in this area are:
The Brain Warrior’s Way – Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen
The Model Health Show – Shawn Stevenson
The Doctor’s Farmacy – Mark Hyman, M.D.
The Dr. Axe Show – Dr. Josh Axe
Menopause Taylor – Barbara Taylor, M.D.
The Brain Warrior's Way by Dr. Daniel Amen
Memory Rescue by Dr. Daniel Amen
Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly by William Davis
One of the first things I did was to join WW in order to gain control over my eating and begin losing weight. I had gone through Weight Watchers before and felt I could do the online version with little problems. I would definitely recommend WW for weight loss. It is the easiest program to follow with lots of support even online, and you don’t have to eat certain foods, you just count the point value of whatever foods you choose to eat. In my case, I chose food from the MIND Diet, which is the acronym for Mediterranean-Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Diseases. I plan to do a whole blog and podcast on this diet later. Using the foods from this diet along with the point system from WW, I lost a little over 20 pounds in 5 months. My total cholesterol came down in those few months 36 points to 237, and my triglycerides came down 149 points to 101. My blood pressure went back to its normal 110/70. I have since lost another 20 pounds and have my yearly checkup coming up soon. I literally can’t wait to see what my numbers are this year. Judging by how much better I feel, I’m guessing they will all be back to normal.
In addition to improving my diet, I began an exercise routine every morning and walking a mile outside every evening in order to increase oxygen and improve my overall health. Regular exercise is vital for a healthy heart and a healthy brain. I started very slowly with an 11 minute full body workout that I found on YouTube. Sadly, I could barely even do it at first! I am now up to 25 minutes of full body workout every day. I do this first thing every morning after I wake up and I have so much more energy to tackle my day. I'm still teaching first grade full time, so heaven knows I need energy! I probably should add that my doctor prescribed a very low dose of bio identical hormones which I think also contributed to my overall restoration of health. But that’s another podcast, as well!
I’m sharing my personal story as a case study for other women in hopes that they might benefit from knowing what I experienced and perhaps gain motivation to take charge over their own health. I know it’s all anecdotal, but some of the things that have helped me might also help others in their journey toward a healthier post-menopausal life. I certainly hope that some of you will begin researching these things for yourself and take the necessary steps toward reducing your chances of developing Alzheimer’s so you can experience a full and healthy life right up to the end.
My goal is to focus on different aspects of brain wellness and healthy lifestyle choices in more detail with upcoming blogs and podcasts. How we take care of ourselves now can make a big difference in whether we develop Alzheimer’s or other degenerative diseases as we age. The goal is to age and remain healthy and active for as long as possible. One of the main things that research has proven to be helpful is choosing to eat healthy. My next podcast on brain health will focus on the MIND Diet and the research concerning its benefits. As I learn important research based strategies to prevent metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and dementia, I will also share those things with you. I hope that together we can get a handle on the things causing us to be so sick and through positive changes, we can live a more productive life well into our 70’s and 80’s.
Other upcoming topics regarding brain health and Alzheimer’s prevention include:
· Adequate sleep
· Prayer and meditation
· Meaningful relationships with others
· Lifelong learning
Keep watching and listening as I add more content and give me feedback concerning the things you’d like to learn more about. I love searching for research and implementing new strategies to see if they help me to feel more energized and focused. I’ll do the studying and be the guinea pig so you don’t have to!