This is an excerpt from my Parenting column on the LA Edition of Examiner.com.
Much has been written and broadcast about natural remedies and alternative medicine as well as about psychosocial interventions including brain exercises. Unfortunately, much of this information is hyped without substantial scientific support about efficacy. (Learn more about Caring for aging family members in a digital world.)
Dennis Fortier is the Alzheimer’s expert at GilbertGuide.com, a reliable and comprehensive web site for everything related to senior care and aging. “What we do know, and can substantiate with adequate evidence, is that late diagnosis is the biggest problem with Alzheimer’s treatment,” reports Fortier. He offers the following advice for helping elderly family members who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease:
- New learning is beneficial (at least in delaying obvious cognitive decline) so picking up a new language or musical instrument may be worthwhile. Continuing to do the daily crossword once you have mastered the rules of crosswords is unlikely to help much. There is some evidence that computer-based brain games help users get better at the games but do not clearly translate into a generalized benefit.
- Socializing requires a broad set of intellectual, behavioral, and emotional functions and seems to be among the most useful “brain exercises” studied.
- Curcumin and Ginko may slightly reduce the risk of becoming demented but do nothing to help cognition once decline has begun. Omega 3 fatty acids seem to reduce the risk for dementing disorders and a well-balanced, “heart-healthy”, diet is also best for preserving cognitive function.
- According to David J. Hanson, Ph. D., the moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and spirits) reduces the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Dennis Fortier asserts that, although we cannot yet cure Alsheimer’s Disease, physicians can intervene and manage the symptoms with more success than most headlines indicate. In fact, with a timely diagnosis, a physician can move beyond pharmaceutical therapy to include a treatment plan involving improved diet, physical exercise, mental and social activity, and certain over-the-counter supplements. “When this approach is combined with an educated caregiver providing care,” he says, “Alzheimer’s disease progression can commonly be slowed for some meaningful period of time.”
Dr. Harvey Gilbert agrees. He suggests new patients try non-pharmacologic treatments prior to starting any medications for Alzheimer’s. The patient should be monitored for general health,and also address simultaneous treatment of other medical conditions that the patient may have, such as depression or infections.
Gilbert recomments getting the patient involved in early-stage Alzheimer’s social groups or adult day services, which help by providing structured activities and supervised exercise in a safe environment. It is also important to treat behavioral symptoms and mood disorders. This can be done through modifying the environment, simplifying the patient’s tasks and selecting appropriate activities. Measures like having the patient wear MedicAlert identifiers and registering the person with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return program can help as well.