By Deb Dittner
What is Alzheimer’s? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.”
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease occurring mostly in those age 65 and older. Research has shown that every 65 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms consist of but are not limited to:
• memory loss of recently learned information
• confusion with time and space
• difficulty in understanding visual images
• misplacing items and not able to find them
• difficulty with conversation therefore limiting an activity with others
• change in disposition (anxious, fearful, confused, depressed)
• difficulty with finances
It can be difficult as a family member or friend when these symptoms initially start in a loved one. What to do? First of all, don’t go it alone. Hold a family meeting to discuss what it is you may be seeing and the steps to take to get the best help for the loved one. Early detection helps in the treatment process, so scheduling an appointment with your health care provider is another good start. Testing and referrals to specialists may also help in the treatment protocols as there is no cure at this time. Improving and maintaining quality of life should be addressed to allow for a healthy relationship with themselves and the family and friends.
Physical movement most days of the week has been shown to decrease cognitive deterioration. Find a form of exercise that is enjoyable and continue. By exercising with a friend or family member creates conversation to help in slowing down the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Alternative therapies may be considered, but do know that these have limited trials/research and not all those suffering with dementia may benefit. Consider having a team approach with your health care provider, pharmacist and those who provide alternative choices such as acupuncturists. If using supplements in combination with prescribed medications please note the possible interactions or enhanced effectiveness. Some supplements for discussion to consider in the treatment plan:
• Coenzyme Q10 is an anti-oxidant occurring naturally in the body and is needed for normal reactions in the cell. This is used by many but has not been studied for its effectiveness.
• Gingko biloba is a plant extract with both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory use in traditional Chinese medicine. Gingko has been used to assist with cognitive symptoms.
• Omega 3-fatty acids have been used to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, support and protect nerve cell membranes, and its many anti-inflammatory properties. Research has shown a possible reduction in the risk of dementia or cognitive decline but more is needed.
Therapeutic grade essential oils have also been considered for Alzheimer patients in improving personal orientation. Oils can be inhaled, applied directly to the skin or diffused in a diffuser. Some oils to consider are:
• Lavender, used to decrease anxiety, restlessness, depression and used to aid in sleep.
• Bergamot, used to improve positive feelings, showing a decrease in anxiety, depression and agitation.
• Peppermint, used to improve memory, focus and concentration. Peppermint can calm the nerves and also aid in headaches.
• Lemon, used to decrease stress and boost one’s mood.
• Rosemary, used to improve personal orientation.
• Ylang ylang, used to improve depression and reduce stress. It is also beneficial in insomnia.
• Frankincense, used to boost one’s mood and increase focus.
Nutrition, no matter what the condition or disease, is of utmost importance. Whole nutrient-dense foods consisting of vegetables and fruit, clean lean protein and healthy fats will be beneficial for everyone. Avoid heavily processed foods and those containing refined sugar. As Alzheimer’s progresses it may become more difficult due to a loss of appetite. Get creative in your food choices and recipes.
Hydration can also become a problem so encouraging small cups of water that can be infused with berries, cucumbers, mint and more will be beneficial. Another way to get calories and liquids is to make soups or smoothies and provide snacks such as cucumbers or watermelon which have a high water content.
It’s always important to encourage independence for as long as possible keeping safety in mind. Prevention of injury, decreasing overwhelm and using services as the need arises are all important factors when keeping our elders healthy and happy.
The information provided is for educational purposes. Please discuss any concerns with your primary care provider.
Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes. For more information, check out her website at www.debdittner.com or contact her at 518-596-8565.