Dementia — actually a group of symptoms affecting social and intellectual capabilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning — has many causes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia.
Memory loss often occurs in dementia, but memory loss alone does not necessarily signify dementia. A diagnosis of dementia involves difficulties with at least two brain functions, such as impaired judgment and memory loss. Dementia can cause one to be unable to remember names or people, or create confusion. One also may experience changes in social behavior and personality. However, some causes of dementia are treatable and even reversible.
Common Symptoms of Dementia
- Memory loss
- Difficulty communicating
- Inability to learn or remember new information
- Difficulty with planning and organizing
- Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
- Inappropriate behavior
- Personality changes
- Inability to reason
Our goal at Swanson Health Center is to attempt to slow the progress of the disease and accompanying loss of brain function. This is done by feeding the body/brain lots of healthy fats, keeping active physically and mentally, adding needed supplementation for any deficiencies and overhauling your diet.
Frontotemporal dementia (frontotemporal lobar degeneration) encompasses a group of uncommon disorders that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain — the areas generally associated with language, behavior and personality. In frontotemporal dementia, portions of these lobes shrink or atrophy. Some individuals with frontotemporal dementia lose their ability to use and understand language, while others undergo noticeable changes in their personality and may become impulsive, emotionally indifferent or socially inappropriate.
Frontotemporal dementia is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease or a psychiatric problem. But frontotemporal dementia tends to occur at a younger age than does Alzheimer’s disease, often between the ages of 40 and 70. Rarer subtypes of frontotemporal dementia are characterized by problems with movement, similar to those associated with Parkinson’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is also often called Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Vascular dementia is a broad term describing problems with planning, reasoning, memory, judgment and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain. A stroke blocking an artery in your brain can cause vascular dementia, but strokes are not always the cause. Whether a stroke affects your thinking and reasoning depends on the location and severity. Vascular dementia also can result from other conditions that reduce circulation and damage blood vessels, depriving your brain of vital nutrients and oxygen. High cholesterol, smoking, and high blood pressure — risk factors for stroke and heart disease — also put a person at higher risk for vascular dementia.
Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, causes a progressive decline in mental abilities. In Lewy body dementia, abnormal round structures — called Lewy bodies — develop in regions of your brain involved in thinking and movement. Visual hallucinations, which can take the form of seeing animals, colors or shapes that aren’t there — or even having conversations with deceased loved ones — may result. Daytime drowsiness or periods of staring into space can also be indicative of Lewy body dementia. Similar to Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia can result in tremors, slowed movement and rigid muscles.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) sits between the typical cognitive decline of aging and the more pronounced decline of dementia. It involves problems with judgment, language, memory, thinking and language that are outside the “norm.” Memory or mental function is seen as having “slipped,” and changes may be noticeable to close friends and family. But generally these changes aren’t severe enough to interfere with your day-to-day life. Mild cognitive impairment increases your risk of later developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, especially when your main difficulty is with memory. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.
Alzheimer’s disease causes brain changes that gradually get worse. It’s the most common cause of dementia — a group of brain disorders that cause progressive loss of intellectual and social skills, severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life. In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells degenerate and die, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function.
Dementia and Nutritional Deficiencies
Dr. Melvyn Werbach, long-time Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA School of Medicine and noted authority on nutritional medicine, believes that up to a fifth of all dementia in the elderly is reversible, and one large cause is malnutrition or malabsorption, or an inadequate amount of a number of nutrients. We agree with his assessment, and recommend the following Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with dementia.
Have your toxic metal levels tested and, if high, get them removed following the correct protocol for removal and detoxification.
Have a thyroid panel done. Older women who have high or low levels of the thyroid hormone TSH, even if in the normal range, have more than twice the risk for the development of Alzheimer’s disease versus those with more moderate thyroid hormone levels.1
Get tested for adequate stomach acid and absorption.
Test for folate deficiencies. Low levels of folate can cause poor concentration, memory failure and disorientation. Dr. Werbach notes one case of a woman whose severe dementia was reversed by folate supplementation.
Check your vitamin D levels. Health issues associated with low vitamin D levels may be correlated with dementia later in life.
See if you need niacin (B3) supplementation. Dementia is a classic symptom of niacin deficiency. Dementia caused by deficiency of this nutrient can even be reversed, says Dr Werbach, if niacin levels are normalized.
Get your homocysteine levels checked. B12 deficiency is long associated with confusion, memory impairment and other neurological problems. Although a recent study concludes that Alzheimer’s (AD) victims had no obvious B12 deficiency, other studies show that supplementation with B12 can be effective even in patients with normal apparent B12 levels and no symptoms of deficiency. This may be either because the tests are inadequate or that absorption in the brain is somehow inadequate. In one 73-year-old woman with beginning AD symptoms but no signs or symptoms of B12 deficiency, intermuscular injections cleared all AD symptoms in three months.2
Investigate possible zinc deficiency, which can cause a loss of nerve cells in the brain.
Eat a varied diet of unrefined whole foods, rich in organic fresh fruits and vegetables and essential fatty acids, and low in unhealthy vegetable oils. Increase your intake of good fats and Omega 3s: virgin coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, wild-caught fish, pastured meats and pastured eggs. Taking 1-3 Tbsp. of virgin coconut oil each day has been shown to improve cognitive capabilities in some Alzheimer sufferers.
Maintain a healthy weight. A study published in Neurology followed 6,583 patients and found that visceral (abdominal) fat mass in the 40s predicts the risk of dementia in old age. Patients in the highest quintile (20% with the most visceral fat mass) had an almost three-fold higher risk of dementia than patients in the lowest quintile.4
Exercise. Walking a few miles a week may be one thing people can do to keep their brains from shrinking and fight off dementia. A study of nearly 300 people in Pittsburgh who kept track of how much they walked each week showed that those who walked at least six miles had less age-related brain shrinkage than people who walked less. Exercise for three to five hours per week. According to one study, the odds of developing Alzheimer’s were nearly quadrupled in people who were less active during their leisure time, between the ages of 20 and 60, compared with their peers.
Keep your mind active with crossword puzzles, reading, travel, and anything that excites you and keeps you learning!
Eat wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content, are known to guard against Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
- Get a flu shot. They are full of aluminum and mercury.
- Eat refined sugar.
- Use deodorant with aluminum of any kind.
- Eat trans-fats.
- Use aluminum cookware. Cast iron or enameled cast iron is best.
- Use fluoridated toothpaste or drink fluoridated water. It is a potent neurotoxin.
Supplementation for Dementia
An encouraging study shows regular use of B vitamins reduces brain shrinkage in seniors with memory problems and slows the progression towards dementia. Scientists from Oxford University said their two-year clinical trial was the largest to date into the effect of B vitamins mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment does not usually interfere with daily life, but many people diagnosed with it go on to develop the far more severe Alzheimer’s disease within several years.
David Smith and colleagues conducted a two-year trial with 168 volunteers with MCI who were given either a vitamin pill containing high doses of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, or a placebo dummy pill. Brain scans were taken at the beginning and the end of the trial to monitor the rate of brain shrinkage, or atrophy. On average the brains of those taking the vitamin B treatment shrank at a rate of 0.76 percent a year, while those taking the dummy pill had an average brain shrinkage of 1.08 percent. People who had the highest levels of homocysteine at the start of the trial benefited the most from the treatment. Those people who had lowest rates of shrinkage had the highest scores in mental tests.3
2. Lion’s Mane
Compounds in Lion’s Mane are able to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), which promotes the repair and regeneration of neurons. There is growing clinical evidence that Lion’s Mane in beneficial in mild forms of dementia.
In a double blind placebo controlled trial, 50-80-year old Japanese men and women with mild cognitive impairment given 3g/day showed significant increases on a cognitive function scale compared with a placebo group over a 16 week period.
In another study, 7 patients with different types of dementia were given 5g a day of Lion’s Mane in soup. *Side note, Lion’s Mane is delicious and tastes like lobster. After six months all seven demonstrated improvement in their Functional Independence Measure score (eating, dressing, walking etc.), while six out of seven demonstrated improvements in their perceptual capacities (understanding, communication, memory, etc).
In 2004, a study involving genetically engineered mice suggested that curcumin appears to prevent the spread of amyloid protein plaques, which are thought to cause dementia in the brain. Curcumin is more effective in inhibiting the formation of the protein fragments than many other potential Alzheimer’s treatments. Alzheimer’s symptoms caused by inflammation and oxidation are eased by curcumin’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition, UCLA researchers tested the effect of curcumin on isolated cells called macrophages (part of the body’s immune system that gets rid of waste products like the disease-causing protein plaques) in blood samples taken from a half-dozen Alzheimer’s patients for a day. The blood samples from three Alzheimer’s patients improved dramatically after being treated with curcumin, improving the digestion of the amyloid beta cells by the macrophages.5
4. Memory Pro
In several double-blind trials the herb ginkgo biloba increased blood flow to the brain and improved brain waves, helping people with dementia to think more clearly.
5. Vitamin D3
Get your levels tested to determine the dosage.
6. Green tea
A study of more than 1,000 Japanese adults in their 70s and beyond, found that the more green tea men and women drank, the lower their odds of having cognitive impairment. The findings build on evidence from lab experiments showing that certain compounds in green tea may protect brain cells from the damaging processes that mark dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The possible protective effects of green tea may help explain one reason for Japan’s lower rate of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, compared with Europe and North America.6
1. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:1514-1520. July 28, 2008
4. Central obesity and increased risk of dementia more than three decades later, Neurology, June 26, 2008