As this very complicated and confusing year comes to a close, I hear many people say it can’t happen fast enough! I echo those sentiments except in one important regard and that is the progress that has been made this year in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness month and as such, it is fitting to highlight new developments in promising research, tips for maintaining our brain health, and a quick update on the role Alzheimer’s/dementia has played, and continues to play, in my life.
First, let me assure you that I have never been more optimistic than I am right now that a breakthrough is on the horizon. The National Alzheimer’s Plan that was written into law in 2010 calls for prevention, treatment, and cure by 2025. Despite some temporary setbacks in clinical trials due to Covid-19, things are back on track and the neuroscience experts whom I know are equally optimistic that we have a great chance of meeting or beating that goal!
As a quick reminder about why this topic is so important to me, three of four parents in my immediate family were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia. Our “Lovies”, as we refer to them, lived for 16, 14, and 11 years with the disease and it would be an understatement to say that it changed every aspect of our lives. While it has been six years now since our last Lovie left us, striving to rid the planet of dementia, at least in some small way, remains my purpose and passion.
I continue in my role at MINES and Associates as a provider of Employee Assistance Plan Alzheimer’s/dementia coaching and corporate client dementia training. After recently completing a six-year term on the Alzheimer’s Association Board of Directors, I continue as a volunteer community educator for them and also serve as their public policy ambassador to Capitol Hill, where I speak with congress about dementia research funding and legislation.
I am now in my fifth year as the volunteer Community Chair for Dementia Friendly Denver, which is affiliated with Dementia Friendly America, a White House Conference on Aging program announced in 2015. We present a free one hour program through DFD for organizations and community groups called Dementia 101 + Reducing Your Risk. In 2019, I delivered 135 of these learning sessions around the greater Denver area and am now presenting them virtually. FYI, you can reach me at 800.873.7138 for MINES and Associates EAP dementia coaching or at firstname.lastname@example.org for community group presentations.
Now for the juicy and exciting news! Among the many dementia findings the scientific and medical community has announced this year are the following:
- New research supports the positive impact of flu and pneumonia vaccinations on risk reduction for Alzheimer’s disease. Discuss these vaccinations with your doctor as there may now be more than just the obvious advantages.
- At long last, a simple blood test for Alzheimer’s disease is in the final stages of clinical trial and may be available in a year or two! Rather than denying the knowledge of impending dementia, we now know that important lifestyle changes might delay onset.
- The next bit of great news is that the FDA has approved the drug Aducanumab for final review for the treatment of Alzheimer’s! If this last step meets standards, it will be the first true treatment for Alzheimer’s, as current drug therapies may provide some relief for symptoms, but do not slow the progression of the disease.
- To keep the good news coming, diagnosis guidelines have been improving for the past few years and PET scans can now detect excess amyloid-beta and tau, the hallmark brain proteins for Alzheimer’s, in living brains! This is big news versus waiting until autopsy to determine the pathology of the disease.
And now, because I could never conclude my yearly dementia update without a list of the 15 real things we can all do at any age to reduce our risk for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, here you go…
- Exercise – Regular cardiovascular exercise is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet while we await a cure. Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for your overall health.
- Diet – Adopt a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins. Avoid salty, sugary, fatty, and fried foods, and limit red meat consumption. Blueberries are awesome for your brain!
- Sleep – Good sound, natural sleep is critical in allowing your brain to rid itself of toxins. Put your devices in another room, make it cool and dark, and discuss sleep issues with your doctor before taking sleep aids. Ask your doctor about classes of drugs that should be avoided by those over 50 as they may increase risk for dementia.
- Heart Health – There is a correlation between dementia and cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. If it is good for your heart, it’s good for your brain!
- Cognitive Evaluations – As you get older, ask your doctor to include a cognitive evaluation in your annual physical. Staying on top of cognition changes can help you make important lifestyle adjustments to reduce dementia risk.
- Smoking – There is a direct correlation between Alzheimer’s disease and smoking. Enough said!
- Mental Health – Depression, stress, and other emotional conditions can negatively affect cognition. Discuss these with your doctor for treatment. Manage your stress through safe exercise, yoga, meditation, etc.
- Hearing Loss – There is an increase in Alzheimer’s/dementia among those with untreated hearing loss in middle to older age. Discuss hearing loss with your doctor. There should be no stigma for hearing devices!
- Social Interaction – Involvement with others is critical for brain health. Especially in the year of Covid-19, socialize via online platforms, or safely distanced interactions.
- Continual Learning – Learn a new language, instrument, or hobby, or take online classes!
- Brain Exercise – While not every brain game may have science behind it, some do, so exercise your brain through games, puzzles, and new challenges.
- Helmets – Always use your seatbelt and wear helmets when biking, skiing, etc. Protect your most important asset, your brain!
- Air Quality – New studies show a correlation between brain health and pollution. Protect your cardiovascular health by wearing a mask in heavily polluted cities or fire/smoke areas.
- Alcohol – Excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to cognitive decline.
- Inflammation – Studies show a correlation between cognitive issues and brain inflammation. Avoid a diet that can increase inflammation. Choose salmon, broccoli, walnuts, avocado, and other anti-inflammatory foods.
So…as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is observed during November, and this crazy year wraps up, please know that hope is plentiful on the Alzheimer’s/dementia front! And thank you for helping to spread the word about the lifestyle practices we can all do to keep our brains healthy and reduce risk for cognitive decline.
If you are living through the pandemic with a family member with dementia, remember to physically demonstrate safe practices versus using verbal reminders and most importantly, reach out to friends and family members to take a turn at caregiving to give yourself periodic breaks. Maintaining your patience level and taking care of yourself are key.
Reach out to me through MINES and Associates for help in making a dementia plan, increasing your dementia knowledge, and honing your communication and interaction skills. And use the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline (800.272.3900) and website (alz.org) to stay connected to resources and the latest news.
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving no matter what that may look like for your family this year. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts and please stay safe and well! – JJ
To your wellbeing
Mines and Associates