While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, there are lifestyle enhancements that may slow down the progression of the disease. Science is evolving with various therapeutic options that may eventually even result in the reversal of damage, or ideally prevention. It is important to understand the changes in the brain and the signs to watch for in order to understand your loved one’s needs.
Brain health and overall fitness is vital because the brain is under attack due to plaque and toxin build up. This can result in an array of symptoms as the brain deteriorates or fails. The risk for other health issues may also arise or worsen, due to the imbalanced state of the body and the possibility of pre-existing chronic disease.
To help improve your loved one’s quality of memory and daily life, the goal is to enhance moments throughout the day. It is important that their daily routine remains structured with activities to provide continuity, and to help stimulate the brain. At all stages of the disease, good nutrition, functional activities, physical exercise and sleep remain key in this process.
Food as Medicine
There are numerous medical foods, herbal and dietary supplements that are linked as therapeutic options for cognitive disorders. Foods that are rich in antioxidants, Omega-3, and folate are linked to maximizing brain health. Additional herbs and supplements are coconut oil, turmeric, high dose vitamins and coenzyme Q10. In general, eating low fat foods, a well balanced diet and fresh produce are used to fight the risks of obesity, while aiding in good overall nutrition and maintaining a healthy BMI. Memory care facilities incorporate these foods and supplements in home-cooked style meals, however, physicians may be required to order specific supplements such as CoQ10, high dose vitamins and other non-food items. A healthy diet is the goal, while taking into consideration food preferences, and culturally appropriate dishes, which can provide a sense of familiarity and the comfort of home to your loved one.
Keeping residents mentally active is very valuable in adding to their quality of life. Many residents show signs of withdrawal from hobbies and people because of their mental decline. They may have difficulty following conversations, delayed response times while interacting with others and challenges in expressing themselves. However, mental stimulation may slow down that negative processes in the brain and even restore joyous moments every day. Things like reminiscence therapy, music, art, gardening, puzzles, etc. can lower the stressors caused by Alzheimer’s and help bring back memories. It is important to tailor daily activities to fit the stage and cognitive function of the resident.
Metabolic syndrome and obesity as well are cardiac disease are risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease, and an effective program of physical exercise may aid as a prevention or management tool of those diseases. While helping residents maintain healthy BMI, exercise can also assist in managing anxiety, depression, while promoting good sleep patterns. Exercise may also help maintain muscle strength and balance, which may result in less falls and easier transitions from a seated to a standing position or vice versa.
Sleep is so important to all of us, and when someone has dementia, sleep disturbances are not uncommon. A resident may lose track of time and their sleep patterns may be affected or even reversed (awake at night, sleeping during the day). By maintaining a structured schedule with specific bedtimes, this is often a continuation of most people’s normal lifestyle, while allowing a body the opportunity to rest and recover from the day’s events. If someone is not sleeping a good 6-8 hours (depending on their normal pattern), residents may need to nap during the day to allow their brains to have a “break”. A tired brain does not function as well as one that is rested, and with fatigue can come increased difficulty in communication and frustration (for the resident and caregiver), as well as worsening confusion, fear and even wandering. This is referred to as “Sundowning”, especially as it happens later in the day, as the sun sets.