The Alzheimer’s Association has just released the latest facts and figures about the state of the disease in the United States:
- Right now, today, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
- In 2016 Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will cost the United States $236 billion.
- At this rate, the cost could go as high as $1 trillion by the year 2050.
While this news is not great, not all hope is lost.
Read on to discover how you can change this tide of Alzheimer’s disease…
Each of us has a responsibility to change this current trend. And it’s not throwing money at the problem, either.
We know certain lifestyle choices reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, such as
- Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables
- Keeping alcohol consumption low
- Getting physical exercise
- Keeping mentally fit by doing puzzles, reading and learning new skills
- Socializing with friends and family
- Being aware of the signs of depression, as it is a precursor to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease(1)
This is pretty basic lifestyle stuff that promotes overall good health, not just good brain health.
However, as we all grow older (and our parents and loved ones age as well), there are things you can incorporate into daily life to keep your brain sharp and help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Assisted living facilities and Alzheimer’s care centers are implementing alternative therapies that help people already suffering with the degenerative disease.
But they can also be used before the disease strikes as a means of protecting your brain from dementia.
A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine found that taking strolls down memory lane can increase cognitive functioning and relieve symptoms of depression in elderly people with dementia.(2)
The practice of reminiscence therapy includes the discussion of past activities, events and experiences. It can be one-on-one or within a group, and may also include photos, music, old newspaper clippings or radio reports and familiar items from a person’s past.
In a clinical setting a professional therapist might work with a patient to encourage and guide him or her to recount memories in chronological order, evaluate the emotions of the memories, and put together a life story book. Members of the person’s family are often invited to participate as well.(3)
While this is a great therapy for people suffering from dementia, it begs the question: Why not start this kind of activity long before a person exhibits signs of memory loss?
Older folks can get together once a week or so to reminisce… families can spend time with their elderly relatives and talk about the past… one could even create an official group at the local senior center or public library.
Since we know socialization and using the neurons that access the memories can help keep the brain plastic, I don’t see a need to wait until dementia has set in to start a therapy like this.
Light therapy has been used for years in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and circadian rhythm and mood disorders.
A shortwave, blue UV light is used to stimulate a person’s subjective human biologic clock in order to readjust the body’s natural moods and circadian rhythms, which tell a person when it’s time to sleep and time to be awake.
Sleep issues and mood swings are a well-documented symptom associated with Alzheimer’s disease and can include evening agitation, restlessness, insomnia and even wandering.
In an interesting twist on light therapy, researchers replaced the lightbulbs in the homes of 35 people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caretakers with lights that had high short-wavelength content and were brighter than the original bulbs.
After 11 weeks the researchers determined that the bulbs were able to regulate the participants’ circadian rhythms to improve nighttime sleep.(4)
In March 2016 researchers publishing in the journal Biophotonics and Immune Responses tested light therapy on a mouse model and found that exposing them to infrared light improved cognitive performance.(5)
Because light (and sunlight) have been shown to have an effect on a person’s mood and ability to sleep, it’s not far-fetched to consider that something as small as changing the lightbulbs to those that mimic daylight and/or have a blue cast can help to keep the brain and circadian rhythms strong.
Light boxes and other tools can be purchased for home use as well, for more intense treatment.
Other alternative therapies are being used in Alzheimer’s facilities, but could just as easily be implemented either by or for older folks before any signs of dementia appear.
- Using iPads with simple yet engrossing games and puzzles to keep the brain stimulated. Completing the challenges also provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, which can boost mood.
- Art therapy. Creating art can be a challenging yet rewarding skill, for everyone. Flexing the creative muscle increase brain plasticity, provides a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment, reduces stress and anxiety and much more.
- Storytelling. A type of group therapy for dementia patients includes asking members to make up a story based on a picture. This gets the brain working in different and creative ways, blending experiences with imagination and provides a great social outlet.
So start spinning yarns to your grandchildren, get out the sketchbook and set aside time to reminisce about the past.
Don’t wait until the signs of Alzheimer’s disease set in.
If we’re going to turn the tide of Alzheimer’s disease we can’t wait for people in lab coats to save us.
We have to take matters into our own hands… and have a little fun doing it.
- The occurrence of depressive symptoms in the preclinical phase of AD: A population-based study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10599771
- Reminiscence therapy improves cognitive functions and reduces depressive symptoms in elderly people with dementia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. http://www.jamda.com/article/S1525-8610(15)00489-2/abstract
- Reminiscence therapy for dementia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15846613
- Tailored lighting intervention for persons with dementia and caregivers living at home. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27066526
- Studying infrared light therapy for treating Alzheimer’s disease. http://proceedings.spiedigitallibrary.org/proceeding.aspx?articleid=2502712