Modern medicine has extended our average longevity which is awesome. Our challenge nowadays is how to live those extra years well, not poorly. Mounting evidence suggests that changes to our lifestyle may help postpone dementia and expertise is emerging to help guide us.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s statistics are now staggering. Both diseases now combine to be the number one cause of death in England and Wales. 1 in 3 people born this year affected in their lifetimes. We’re all likely to know someone impacted already. This impacts carers too, of course.
While a cure remains tragically elusive, healthcare resources are channelled into diagnosis and (usually) the prescription of a single drug pathway. The jury seems to be out on the current prescribed drugs’ effectiveness, at least anecdotally.
The rationale is that while we can’t change two of the risk factors for dementia, our genetic profile and age, we can influence the third risk factor, our lifestyle.
Is there such a thing as a dementia-slowing lifestyle?
I recently met Rosie Pearce, a registered nutritionist, who got me interested in the Brain Health Programme she runs in Oxon / Bucks. I called by her home recently and she took me through the background. Rosie shared some tasty ‘brain foods’ too (find some recipes here).
It all started for Rosie in 2015 when she heard Dr Dale Bredesen present his paper: ‘The Reversal of Cognitive Decline: a Novel Therapeutic Program’. He has since followed up his early findings in his book ‘The End of Alzheimer’s’ and a further study involving 100 individuals, published earlier this year.
In Dr Bresenden’s studies, people appear to have had Alzheimer’s symptoms halted or even reversed through diet, lifestyle and correction of biochemistry imbalances. He outlines the many factors he believes can lead to signs of Alzheimer’s disease. His theory being that our brains are resilient, plastic and can thrive at any age. We just have to give them the right conditions.
Rosie, whose mother had Alzheimer’s, was inspired to include Dr Bredesen’s principles in her own work. Around the same time Cytoplan, also excited by Dr Bredesen’s approach, created the ‘self-care’ Brain Health Programme. It’s this six workshop course that Rosie (and other trained nutritionists) adopted and coach people through around the country.
Dr Breseden proposes that nutrition, gut health, sleep, physical activity, stress management and brain activity are all vital contributors.
Spoiler alert – this is how we help ourselves:
- eating ‘low carb’ (and low sugar), ‘normal’ amounts of protein and ‘good fat’, high fibre, veg and fermented foods,
- probiotics can reduce anxiety and depression,
- turns out that intermittent fasting is as good for brain health as it is for cardiovascular disease,
- seven to eight hours sleep,
- moving more and physical exercise,
- lowering stress,
- learning new things.
I think you can guess what we should do about alcohol and smoking.
It appears that the same lifestyle that helps keeps us physically well, reducing the risk of long-term health conditions like cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer also applies to potentially reducing the risk of chronic brain disease. Thinking it through, why wouldn’t our whole body’s biochemistry work best when treated ‘well’?The beautiful simplicity of this is good news. Still, it’s blooming challenging. There’s been longstanding, profitable interests in keeping us all hooked on sugar and large portion sizes. Never mind tobacco and alcohol (puts down Twix). And that’s before considering the ‘always on’ work practises and that foster a culture of ‘busy-ness’, over-working and under-sleeping.
Where to get support near you
Switching from a ‘fight or flight’ to a ‘rest and digest’ lifestyle to help the brain (and body) stay well, sounds great. But it can be blooming hard to make lifestyle changes on our own or altogether as a household.
There are local (and free) organisations who are ready to help us all get fitter and healthier, some of them in Oxon / Bucks are listed here.
For anyone already a bit worried about ‘brain fog’, low mood, anxiety, poor concentration or cognitive brain ageing, The Brain Programme might be a life changing option. This is where Rosie can help.
Rosie leads small groups through the six interactive workshops. An accompanying booklet helps identify individual priorities, visualise objectives and includes strategies to achieve them. All focus is on small, personalised, manageable changes that are easy to implement and stick to.
The course is perfect for people who find lifestyle changes easier when supported by others. (I’m targeting exercise right now and I rely on classes to stay motivated). The Brain Programme also seems (to me) more genuinely altruistic than Weight Watchers or Slimming World (I went to a group once).
An offer for Maud & Mum readers
Rosie gives introductory presentations on the Brain Health Programme across Oxon/Bucks. If you want to find out more, contact her direct at firstname.lastname@example.org or via facebook @nutritionbyrosie or twitter @nutribyrosie.
Quote ‘Maud & Mum’ and she’ll offer you a 20% reduction on the programme’s full price. If both you and your elder would benefit from the programme, Rosie will offer a “buy one get second half price” to carers.
In the meantime, look after yourself.
Further reading / watching:
- The Radio 4 Food Programme ‘The Food and Medicine Debate‘, broadcast 25 Nov 2018 has introduced me to the concept of ‘Lifestyle Medicine’.
- I came across neurologists Dean and Ayesha Sherzai in this Times article (you’ll need to sign up to view the whole article or email me for a scanned copy). Their book, ‘The Alzheimer’s Solution’ promotes eating, sleeping and exercising well.
- ‘Why we sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams‘ by neuroscientist and ‘sleep scientist’ Matthew Walker is a fascinating book that has completely changed my attitude to sleep. It’s a book that’s also very good at sending you to sleep due to its high science content. The author is open about not minding this at all. Now, despite my owl-ish ways, we rigourously target eight hours sleep in our house.
- So called Blue Zones, places around the world with the highest clusters of the long-lived, have helped guide thinking on healthy ageing.
- Susan Pinter’s TED Talk April 2017 ‘The secret to living longer may be your social life’. To help other’s and perhaps your own social connectivity you can find volunteering opportunities at Community Impact Bucks.
- Update Jan 2019. A team led by Fernanda De Felice in Rio has uncovered a possible link between exercise, specifically the production of the hormone irisin and the prevention of Alzheimers’ in mice. Human trials yet to be scheduled.