February 25, 2014

Ask the Doctors

Both my husband’s parents developed Alzheimer’s disease in later life. I would like to do everything I can to help my husband avoid it. Do you have advice?

Current data suggests that your husband is at increased risk compared to a person who has no family history of Alzheimer’s; however, the condition is prevalent enough that we are all probably at some risk.

Some studies indicate that as many as one in 10 people who reach the age of 65 will develop dementia, along with its attendant loss of cognitive function. In fact, one in three of those reaching the age of 85 will have developed some features of dementia. The capacity for abstract thinking, calculation, and judgment, as well as memory function, fails. Most people develop problems with the memory of names as they age, but dementia involves far more than memory loss.

Physicians have been attempting earlier diagnoses, which may facilitate the making of important decisions regarding care and interventions. But it also demands a high price in adaptability by the patient and his or her family.

For the patient, there is often the sense of loss of identity. Grief and sorrow may overwhelm the individual confronted by this diagnosis, and depression can be acute and intense, sometimes leading to suicide.

Some, of course, will deny the condition; in other settings, a diagnosis can bring relief in the knowledge of what is happening. Others seek to hide the condition out of embarrassment or shame. Still others become angry and resentful. Family members may also experience these symptoms.

While much is written about prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, there are no guaranteed ways to prevent it. As is often the case with lifestyle interventions, we may lower our risks and delay the onset, but no one should ever feel that they failed to prevent what may well be inevitable.

It has been suggested, with some supporting evidence, that maintaining an active and inquiring mind may delay Alzheimer’s. So playing musical instruments, engaging in games that require calculation, or reading material that stimulates thoughtful analysis are all encouraged. Exercise, too, has been shown to play an important role. A diet low in animal fats and rich in phytochemicals, such as a well-balanced vegetarian diet, may also be helpful. Reaching out for help from friends, family, and organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association is extremely important as well.

Natural remedies are often touted for Alzheimer’s, without evidence of efficacy. Stimulants such as dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate, and other neuropharmaceuticals are currently under continued scrutiny, but are not appropriately recommended in a column such as this.

We cope best when we live by faith and trust that the Life-giver will make everything come out right in the end. It’s wise for us to make the best decisions we can, but we also must trust God with our future and place it safely in His hands.

Send your questions to Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or e-mail them to [email protected] While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landles and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication wiht our readers. We recommend you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.