Alzheimer’s disease, poetically described by Ronald Reagan in a letter to the American people; “I now begin the journey which will lead me into the sunset of my life….“ affects millions of people in various ways, including mood swings and problems communicating.
It seems particularly cruel when it deprives people of memory and the ability to recognise friends and family.
Research into this progressive disease has led to various drug regimes and the popularity of brain training. Drugs can slow the process down but have limited impact in the long-term and brain training has sadly been proved to be ineffective.
And although Alzheimer’s and dementia are considered an almost inevitable disease of the ageing process (the word senility comes from the latin for old) there is some good research around about how to make the most of your brain.
Scientists now believe that learning a foreign language and speaking it regularly offers more protection against Alzheimer’s than any drugs currently available. Bilingual speakers tend to have the most common form of dementia 4 years later than monolingual speakers according to researchers in Canada.
They think the mental skills required to juggle between the two languages may stimulate the brain and keep it resilient thereby enabling it to perform better under stressful conditions, strengthening the brain’s “cognitive reserve”.
The research was carried out at York University, Toronto, and presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington this year. They are now examining whether or not bilingualism actually changes the structure of the brain as they believe.
For those of you not brought up bi-lingual or who don’t want to learn a foreign language you could always look at your diet. Jean Carper, in her book “100 simple things to do to prevent Alzheimer’s and age-related memory loss” (featured in Body + Soul in the Times last month) suggests that you should eat the following:
- Berries of any kind, every day, at least 1/2 a cupful
- Apple juice or apples every day as they boost acetylcholine in the brain just like Aricept, the Alzheimer drug. (so the old rhyme is true…)
- Coffee – 5 cups a day will clear up the mess the disease has created – unless you are pregnant or have high blood pressure
- Cocoa as it contains flavinol which increases blood flow to the brain or chocolate with 70-80% cocoa content
- Cinnamon – a teaspoon a day
- Alpha lipoic acid and Alcar supplements are the strongest anti-oxidant rejuvinators of ageing brains
- Yellow curry may be the reason elderly people in rural India are 4 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s than elderly people in America. Curry powder contains turmeric which contains cucumin which is believed to slow memory decline.
- A daily cocktail or glass of wine. Older people who drank 8 – 14 alcoholic drinks a week had over a third lower risk of dementia than non-drinkers. But more than that doubled the risk!
- Folic acid can slow memory decline by 5 years unless you are deficient in vitamin B12 in which case it could hasten your decline. If you have heart disease or diabetes take medical advice anyway.
- Almonds or walnuts, a handful a day with the skin on, contain anti-oxidants.
- Fish – the more you eat the better especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines and herring, 2 or 3 times a week.
- Tea can block neuronal damage. Green tea has 3-4 times more oxidants than black tea. Don’t add milk.
- Vinegar in everything helps reduce high blood sugar spikes by 30% and the risk factors for diabetes.
- Olive oil users were 17% less likely to experience a decline in visual memory than non-users.
- Spinach eaten early in life led to superior long-term memory and less brain damage in old age – at least in rats!
- Multi-vitamins taken daily in low doses help slow ageing in the brain. (Surprised you need them if you eat all the other stuff).
And what you should avoid:
- Bad fats- trans fats and saturated fats. Buy low-fat products and cut down on the deep-fried stuff.
- Iron and copper supplements as excesses can build up in your brain after age 50. Especially dangerous for post-menopausal women or adult males and especially if you have a diet high in saturated fats or trans fats.
- Sugar apparently spurs the production of a toxin, beta-amyloid, which kills neurones.
Government science advisers have proposed that everyone over 60 should be tested for early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. There is no formal screening system in place at the moment.
The care services minister announced that trials will start in Yorkshire and Humberside (sourceSunday Times 1/5/11).