A small study of women and men who were experiencing severe, progressive Alzheimer’s-related memory loss has shown that a personalized, therapeutic program involving basic lifestyle changes can help people regain their memory.
Alzheimer’s and other age-related forms of dementia have a devastating impact on the health of African-American women. Not only do we develop the disease at about twice the rate of white Americans, but we also carry a higher burden of dementia-related caregiving responsibilities than women of other ethnic and cultural groups.
Also, extensive research showing that black women and men are more likely to have dementia is linked to diseases related to lifestyle, such as diabetes or arteriosclerosis. Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million Americans and roughly 30 billion people worldwide.
For these reasons, this small trial, conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, may offer significant clues on how to prevent the effects of Alzheimer’s in the relatively early stages of the disease.
The Personal Approach
Unlike dementia research that gives a single treatment to all study participants, the 10 participants in the UCLA trial each used several components of a 36-point therapeutic program that focused on fitness, diet, nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes.
Ranging in age from 55 to 75, each member of the group was having problems with memory. One woman had reached the point where she would forget what she was
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saying in mid-sentence. Another became disoriented while driving and mixed up the names of her pets.
Several of the study participants were still working, but several had left their jobs because they were no longer able to remember work schedules, the faces of familiar co-workers or handle professional duties such as analyzing data. Even technology failed to help one female participant who recorded data on her iPad to help her remember but who could not remember her passwords.
Taking the approach that Alzheimer’s could be addressed by targeting multiple factors rather than one, Dale Bredesen, Ph.D., lead researcher, conducted extensive tests of each patient to determine what pathways in the brain might be involved in their memory loss. The patients were then asked to follow selected portions of a 36-point therapeutic program, depending on their test results.
For one woman who had a demanding job, but who could no longer remember how to drive herself home, the components of the program were:
- Eliminating all simple carbohydrates, leading to a weight loss of 20 pounds.
- Eliminating gluten and processed food from her diet, while increasing servings of vegetables, fruits, and fish that wasn’t farm raised.
- Reducing stress. She began yoga — other participants used music. She also began to meditate 20 minutes, twice a day.
- She was also given several supplements:
- Melatonin — taken each night
- Vitamin D3
- Fish oil
- Methylcobalamin (a highly-absorbable form of vitamin B12)
- She increased her sleep from 4–5 hours per night to 7–8 hours per night.
- She optimized her oral hygiene using an electric flosser and electric toothbrush.
- She reinstated hormone replacement therapy that had been discontinued.
- She cut snacking and fasted for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime.
- She exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4–6 days per week.
The full 36 components of the programs used by all study participants can be found here in the text of the study. The program components are clear, but anyone attempting to duplicate this complex, personalized program should — at the very least — discuss the study with their physician.
After spending 3-to-6 months on the regimens based on the 36 factors, nine of the 10 participants exhibited dramatic improvement in their memories. The one patient who did not see results had the most advanced case of the disease.
The six study participants who had to leave their jobs were all able to return to work and improve their performance. The nine study participants have now been followed for about 18 months and all have retained their memory.
Bredesen warns that the study results are anecdotal and a larger trial needs to be conducted before his findings can be confirmed. But, his research appears to affirm the value of many measures — such as exercise and a healthy diet — that have been shown to protect the brain from aging.
Another unrelated study, published in the October issue of Neurology, reported that women who are anxious, jealous and moody (indicators of neuroticism) in midlife may be at higher risk of Alzheimer’s, underscoring the importance of learning to be less reactive to stress and avoiding difficult situations to protect brain health.