DeMystifyng Alzheimer’s with Mary Yamin-Garon 10/01/16
Good afternoon. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today I’ll be talking about treating Alzheimer’s symptoms without drugs or supplements.
Lifestyle changes that may delay the progression of dementia—exercising your brain and body, staying connected to family and friends and eating a heart-healthy diet—also may help soothe the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These measures aren’t proven deterrents. However, nondrug treatments from behavior modification to bright light are typically free of side effects. They also have been shown to improve the health and quality of life for AD sufferers and their caregivers.
Lightening the Burden
Alzheimer’s patients suffer from an incurable disease. Many of them also are burdened by “excess disability.” That could be depression, agitation, sleep disturbances or physical problems, like falling, that impairs their overall health and well-being and may even speed up their cognitive decline.
For years, it was widely believed that nothing could help someone with Alzheimer’s. More recently, clinicians have developed and tested a variety of nondrug interventions that can increase your loved one’s physical activity, decrease their disability, improve their mood and maybe postpone the need for institutionalization.
According to Dr. Linda Teri, a pioneer in non-pharmaceutical care and treatment for Alzheimer’s at the University of Washington, Seattle, “Just because you have a broken leg doesn’t mean you have to drag around a ball and chain.” She likens Alzheimer’s to a broken leg and the ball and chain to excess disability. Even if you can’t cure AD, you can take away the ball and chain and make it easier for your loved one to walk around.
Engaging in pleasant activities can help alleviate depression in Alzheimer’s sufferers. Remember, your loved one is more likely to engage in things they’ve always enjoyed. Likewise, the environmental triggers that set off difficult behavior in someone with AD vary from person to person.
Caregivers are urged to try an “ABC” approach to reducing behavioral problems. “A” (the activator or antecedent) that sets off “B” (the behavior) and results in “C” (the consequences). If you can understand the particular sequence of events that leads to your loved one’s agitation, you may be able to defuse, even eliminate, the cause of the problem.
Exercise: The Proven Brain and Body Booster
Exercise enhances cognitive function more than any diet, drug, supplement or brain stimulation therapy. Aerobic exercise increases blood volume and promotes new cell growth in aging brains. That cell growth improves memory. Exercise also increases the amount of the chemical BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) circulating in the brain and stimulating the birth and growth of new brain cells. Recent research indicates that vigorous physical exercise actually protects against brain shrinkage in those with early-stage Alzheimer’s.
At a time when someone is losing skills in every aspect of their adult life, developing and improving their physical ability can be extremely rewarding. Swimming an extra lap, walking a little farther or feeling strong enough to get around without a walker are tangible gains that can be a source of pride for you and your loved one.
Before you start an exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor about:
- The best and worst types of exercises
- How hard to workout
- How long to workout
- Possible referrals to other professionals, such as a physical therapist, who can help create a personal exercise program for your loved one.
Physical exercise, such as gentle stretching, strength training, balance and endurance, is critical to maintaining strength and mobility as we age. Those with Alzheimer’s have a greater risk of falls and fractures than people the same age without the disease. Once injured, they’re also more likely to re-injure themselves, a pattern that can impede independence. Even a moderate amount of exercise improves strength and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls and injury.
Sleep disturbances are common among Alzhheimer’s sufferers and physical activity is a natural sleep enhancer. Taking a daily walk or an exercise class can help your loved one relax more before bedtime, reduce agitation and discourage nighttime wandering and fitful sleeping. Exercise also is a proven antidote to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes—all common health problems among the elderly.
Starting an exercise program is difficult. It’s particularly difficult for someone in the early stages of AD, who has a hard time starting and staying with a new routine or behavior. As Alzheimer’s progresses, your loved one also will tend to have trouble learning and recalling directions.
Because exercise benefits you and your loved one, why not exercise together? Check with your local Alzheimer’s Association, health or senior center for exercise programs geared toward those living with AD and other dementias.
Walking with another person outdoors is a safe and beneficial way for someone with Alzheimer’s to get exercise. You can head for the local mall when the weather’s bad. Many indoor, climate-controlled shopping centers have programs for mall walkers.
As many as 70% of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s also exhibit symptoms of depression, a condition that if untreated, can exacerbate cognitive decline. Depressed individuals lose interest in things they once enjoyed. Exercise helps discourage this tendency. In one survey of AD sufferers, those who engaged in 60 minutes of moderate exercise per week had reduced rates of depression after three months. Among members of a group who didn’t exercise, symptoms worsened over the same period.
Over the course of a four-year Rush University study, elders who consistently engaged in mentally stimulating activities were 47% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than those who reported participating in a few mentally challenging activities.
Mental stimulation doesn’t depend on years of education or degrees earned. Anything that exercises your brain—reading, doing puzzles or trying a new hobby—nourishes nerve cells and the connections between them. The key to building brain power is to challenge the brain with new tasks and processes.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I hope this information was helpful.
Join me next time for more on treating Alzheimer’s symptoms without drugs or supplements.