The statistics on dementia are staggering. Per the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease. Every 66 seconds, someone else will develop Alzheimer’s. And one in three seniors will die from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. Since 2000, deaths from dementia have increased a staggering 89 percent, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Why is there such a dramatic increase, and what can be done?
Let’s start with a quick overview of exactly what dementia is—in layman’s terms. Dementia is not a specific disease but rather a general term that describes the symptoms we all know about—most commonly a progressive decline in memory and cognitive ability.
Alzheimer’s is simply the most common form of dementia. Here’s an important point: memory issues can occur with anyone and are not necessarily related to dementia. However, the dementia affected brain experiences actual damage to the cells of the brain, affecting the ability of those cells to communicate.
Now the big question is: what causes dementia? This question is the subject of much debate, but recent research points to a combination of factors leading to the disease. Inflammation (from infection, poor diet or other causes), a deficiency in brain supportive nutrients such as Vitamin D and biotin and exposure to toxic substances such as heavy metals and chemicals (including some prescription medications) have all been implicated in development of dementia.
So how do you prevent and treat this horrific disease? Currently, there are very few prescription medications that can be given to dementia patients, and none of these are very effective. They may slow progression of the disease marginally but also can have numerous and serious side effects.
This is where functional medicine shows promise. Functional medicine is a different approach to health care in which the focus is not simply on treating symptoms, as with today’s health care. Functional medicine seeks to discover and treat the actual cause of the symptoms so that the body can heal itself. In the case of dementia, research is showing us that there are nutritional and other deficiencies that are strongly linked to cognitive decline, and most exciting is that often correcting deficiencies can have a positive effect on symptoms.
So, what should you do if you are concerned about cognitive decline?
· First and foremost, maintain a healthy diet. Functional medicine providers believe that food is medicine, and research shows it to be true.
· Avoid medications with a high “cognitive burden,” known to cause adverse effects on brain function. A list of these medications can be found at http://www.agingbraincare.org/uploads/products/ACB_scale_-_legal_size.pdf
· Ask your provider to evaluate you for nutritional deficiencies and inflammation. If they are not familiar, a functional medicine provider trained in treating cognitive decline can help here.
· Stay active. Even a small amount of exercise provides a multitude of benefits for brain function.
These are just a few of the many things you can do to protect your brain. For more information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at alz.org.
Lynn Kettell-Slifer is the founder of Health Partners, a functional medicine practice based in Ponte Vedra Beach. Contact her at (904) 373-0942 and visit the practice’s website at HealthPartnersLLC.net.