A holistic look at dementia

Dementia is a mental disorder characterized by impaired thinking, reasoning, and memory. Although it is characteristic of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, dementia is not a disease in itself. It is also not a natural part of aging. I think that's important enough to state again. According to many sources, including the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Maryland Medical Center among others, dementia is not a normal part of aging.

How common is it?

According to WebMD: "About 5% to 8% of all people over the age of 65 have some form of dementia, and this number doubles every five years after that. It is estimated that as many as half of people in their 80s suffer from some degree of dementia."

There are several reasons why people exhibit signs of dementia as they age including reactions to medications, diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, vascular disease, and vitamin B or hormone deficiencies. Some of these conditions are curable, some are not.

Non-curable dementia

Dementia brought on by vascular disease and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are examples of non-curable dementia. However, there are treatment options that help reduce the symptoms or slow the progress of dementia. The University of Maryland Medical Center website states "Cholinesterase inhibitors increase the amount of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, a messenger chemical that is involved in memory and judgment. Side effects can include nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea. This class of drugs includes Donepezil (Aricept), Rivastigmine (Excelon), and Galantamine (Razadyne). Your primary care physician will be able to help decide which medications are best for your situation."

Curable dementia

Forms of dementia that are curable are brought on by vitamin or hormonal imbalances, brain tumors, and chronic use of drugs and/or alcohol. Treating these types of dementia involves vitamin or hormone supplements, abstaining from drugs and/or alcohol, and surgery to remove tumors.

Vitamin B

A recent study released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests a combination of vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid can slow the brain-tissue atrophy associated with dementia. The study followed a group of people aged 70 and over who displayed memory loss and elevated levels of homocysteine. The results were that those on a high-dose vitamin B treatment for two years, "...had a loss of gray-matter mass of 0.6%, roughly in line with the shrinkage normally associated with aging; the placebo group lost more than 5%." The conclusion? “B vitamins lower homocysteine, which directly leads to a decrease in GM atrophy, thereby slowing cognitive decline.”

Antioxidants

One of the best natural sources of antioxidants is dark berries such as blueberries and blackberries. The skins are a rich source of antioxidants, and freezing the berries makes the antioxidants easier to absorb.

In fact, one landmark study shows that just one cup of berries provides all the disease-fighting antioxidants you need in a single day. Of course, dietitians will tell you, "Don't stop there." A healthy diet needs a variety of nutrients from many food sources.

Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries are plentiful in most corners of the U.S. "Berries are available almost year-round now…and even though they may be more expensive some times of the year, they're still much more accessible than they used to be," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic.

Phosphatidylserine

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center 100 mg 3 times per day of phosphatidylserine can improve brain function by increasing levels of brain chemicals that deal with memory. Phosphatidylserine occurs naturally in the brain, but decreased levels can cause trouble. Where can you get it? Supplements that contain the substance can be found in health food stores, but it's best to get it from natural sources like soybeans and white beans (great northern). According to Livestrong.com "Soybeans and white beans each contain about 100 mg of phosphatidylserine per 100-g serving." Soy lecithin also contains high amounts of phosphatidylserine, phosphatidylcholine, and phosphatidylinositol.

Ginkgo

A recent ginkgo study sited in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests ginkgo surpassed placebo for the treatment of Alzheimer's dementia. The study found that ginkgo seems to increase blood flow to the brain, improving the supply of oxygen and glucose. At the cellular level, ginkgo stabilizes membranes, scavenges toxic free radicals, stimulates enzymes that relax arterial muscles and inhibits blood platelet clotting. Best of all, ginkgo was safe; side effects were minor.

Lemon balm

According to Livestrong.com, a study by the University of Michigan Health System has shown taking a lemon balm supplement can help treat people with dementia related to Alzheimer's disease. In the study, people who took lemon balm for 16 weeks had significantly improved cognitive abilities and far less agitation than those who took a placebo.

Winchesterhospital.org reports in a 4-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 42 people with Alzheimer’s disease , use of an oral lemon balm extract significantly decreased their tendency to become agitated.

A last word

Dementia affects many people, mostly older folks, and can add stress and uncertainty to many lives. The most important part of living with dementia is to take advantage of community resources. There are many programs for those suffering with dementia and their families and caregivers, so don't struggle alone. It's important to know there is help out there. Join a support group, get in-home nursing assistance, or sign your loved one up for a day out program. Caring for someone with dementia is too difficult a task to bear alone.

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