If you or a loved one are living with a recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis…take a deep breath. All is not lost. Life can be well lived for many years to come. Here are seven tips to help you live well with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Make sure you have all the facts
Wisom is in a multitude of counselors so get second, third and even fourth opinions regarding your symptoms and diagnosis. Expand your circle of practitioners to include a functional medicine specialist or a naturopath. If you haven’t yet had an amyloid PET scan, request one from your doctor. If they refuse, find a new doctor who will listen to you, respect your opinions and work with you as a partner in health.
Have your doctor order a full workup of your hormone levels and key markers of chronic inflammation. Get tested to see if you’ve been exposed to environmental toxins like heavy metals and molds and have your micronutrient levels analyzed. Always verify coverage with your insurance before getting the lab work done. If you don’t have insurance or they won’t cover some particular tests, look for independent laboratories in your local area. Their rates are often quite reasonable.
Submit your DNA to a reputable testing service and share the resulting reports with your healthcare providers.
Many things, such as vitamin and hormone deficiencies, can mimic or exaggerate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Don’t just accept a diagnosis as fact without having all of the facts.
Radically change your relationship with food
Everything you eat or drink from this moment forward is either going to help you or harm you. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, eating well is no longer just about losing weight or looking good. It’s a matter of survival…at the cellular level.
Chronic inflammation is a key feature of Alzheimer’s. You can reduce chronic inflammation by eating an anti-inflammatory diet such as ketogenic, vegan or Mediterranean cuisines. Talk with your physician or nutritionist to see which of these options is best for your unique situation.
Exercise your brain and body every day
Set a training schedule and stick to it. Exercise has never been more important than it is for you right now!
Exercise your brain for one half hour in the morning and in the afternoon. I personally use BrainHQ for my cognitive training. For clients whose symtoms are more pronounced, I highly recommend and have used Montessori-based therapeutic activities. For more information on Montessori-based memory care, please contact the Center for Applied Research in Dementia.
Spend another half hour each morning and afternoon engaging in physical exercise, suited to your capabilities and preferences. Work with your healthcare provider to put together some realistic goals and ideal exercises, or request they refer you to someone who will.
Get sunlight before noon and forget the sunglasses
If your eyes are sensitive to the sun, wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect them. Even if you have to squint, it’s best for your eyes to experience ambient light without sunglasses for at least a few minutes each day. This helps optimize our circadian rhythm which impacts our sleep/wake cycle and hormone regulation. Read more about the importance of these photoreceptors here.
In addition, many of us are desperately in need of more Vitamin D than we are getting. At my last checkup, I had normal Vitamin D levels…for a 60 year old. When sunlight hits your bare skin, your body produces Vitamin D, so sun in moderation is actually quite important to our overall wellness since a lack of this key nutrient can cause symptoms such as fatigue, getting sick often, generalized pain and weakness.
This may sound silly to some people, but I’d also like to suggest you try going barefoot outside when the weather cooperates. My cousin who suffers from arthritis started doing this (she calls it “grounding”) and, since her symptoms are alleviated, she seems to think it’s worthwhile to keep doing.
Get seven solid hours of sleep a night
At a minimum, get a solid seven hours of sleep. This is the minimum amount of time that our body needs to slumber so that our brain can clean house. You see, when we sleep at night our brain is bathed with spinal fluid which acts like a housekeeper, sweeping out the detritus from the day which is in reality byproducts of chemical reactions that occur each time we have a thought or send a signal to our body to move.
I believe that intermittent fasting can be very beneficial and many experts suggest not eating for at least three hours before you go to sleep. This helps us easily fast for twelve to fourteen hours between dinner and breakfast the next morning. Letting our bodily systems (like digestion) have a daily break allows them to replenish and restore.
Do you have sleep apnea?
If your answer is “I don’t know” or “I don’t think so” then I urge you to get tested immediately. My understanding is that doctors can send you home with some sort of monitoring device to see if you suffer from sleep apnea, which is when we stop breathing for periods of time while sleeping at night. This deprives the brain of oxygen and can cause symptoms that are exactly like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
If you’ve got sleep apnea and you’re overweight, I challenge you to lose the weight. 50 percent of people with obstructive sleep apnea are overweight, so rather than investing in a costly mouthguard or using one of those CPAP devices for the rest of your life, shed the pounds! Studies have shown that larger waistlines correspond with Alzheimer’s as well as diabetes, cardiovascular disease…well, you know the drill.
Another suggestion to get a solid seven hours of sleep a night: minimize blue light exposure in the evening and especially right before bed. Television screens, computer screens and cell phone screens all emit blue light. Avoiding screen time right before bed will help you sleep better at night which will in turn improve your overall mental and physical health.
Take care of legal practicalities sooner rather than later
If you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you may feel a loss of control over your life and have serious, valid concerns about your future. While the future is full of the unknown, you can prepare for some practicalities of long-term illness or disability well in advance of a stressful event.
Your estate doesn’t have to be impressively large to turn into an impressively large hassle for your loved ones. Pick or find someone you trust to handle executing your final wishes. When crises happen, we don’t always make the best decisions so I encourage you to work with an attorney to get necessary legal documents drawn up before they are really needed. If you cannot afford an Estate Planning attorney, AARP offers a free personal estate planning kit.
At a minimum, have a simple Last Will and Testament signed and dated and stored in a safe place and make sure that your beneficiaries are up to date for any investment and retirement accounts. I also recommend Advance Directives such as a Living Will and/or a Directive to Physicians. Also take into consideration whether or not your circurmstances call for an Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate (OOHDNR). When deciding on whether you want to have an OOHDNR, think about whether or not you would sign a DNR (Do-Not-Resuscitate) order if you were in the hospital having major surgery. Do you want to be rescucitated at all costs or not? Check your state guidelines for more detail, as this is not available to residents in all US states and territories.
Identify and designate Powers of Attorney, both financial and legal, if this makes sense both in your situation and in your State of residence.
Ideally, get this stuff in a safe deposit box all by itself and give one of the keys to whomever you choose as executor of your estate. Remember, Advance Directives can only be honored if people know about them…so tell your immediate family or a close friend that they exist and where to find them.
Reframe your diagnosis
A highly-respected colleage of mine, Dr. Cameron Camp, has a great video on YouTube called Alzheimer’s Syndrome that I encourage you to watch. The points I make here have grown from listening to him speak on this topic.
If you’ve read my blogs, you may have noticed that I never use the term “Alzheimer’s disease.” Never.
Not too many years ago, children in the United States born with an extra chromosome were labeled “mongoloids”. The majority of those children were placed in institutions soon after birth, locked away from their families and ostracized from society at large. They were perceived as less than human. It was widely believed that their future medical needs would be so great that their families would be incapable of caring for them and so they were essentially warehoused in state mental facilities, hidden from the rest of society and often living in deplorable conditions.
Today, of course, things are much different. Children born with an extra chromosome are no longer labeled “mongoloids” but are rather diagnosed with Down Syndrome. They are not shut away from society. Their parents are encouraged to integrate them into society and in many cases receive valuable support on how to best enable independence and dignity in the lives of these children. We don’t fear them. We don’t shun them. We love them exactly the way that they are and we do what we can to ensure their human rights are respected.
Our society views Alzheimer’s the way it used to view Down Syndrome: as a disease to be feared. We fear, resent and hate this “disease”. We see inevitable decline as the only way forward and so we give up on people who have it. We feel sorry for them and then we lock them away when their needs outweigh our ability to meet those needs.
Syndrome: a group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms
If you have recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I urge you to reject labelling yourself as “diseased”. Call it a syndrome or a condition or a disability and treat it as such! You can live well with this condition for many years to come. You deserve to be loved exactly the way that you are and your human rights are to be respected. You are a valuable member of society with a unique set of skills and abilities and your life is worth living.
Take a deep breath and remember…all is not lost.
The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.