When people talk to me about growing older, they tell me that one of their greatest fears is that they will become forgetful. They fear that memory loss is the first sign of Alzheimer's disease and that it signals an inevitable mental and physical decline. For as long as I can remember, and for long before that, traditional medicine practitioners have told us that memory loss and confusion are simply normal parts of growing older. They implied that we should simply accept such changes in our mental capacities as an inevitable part of the aging process.
But I have known, and now modern medicine is beginning to admit, that remaining alert and able as we age can be the norm, rather than the exception. Many people experience memory lapses. Some are serious and others are not. People who have serious changes in their memory, personality, and behavior may suffer from dementia.
Dementia (from the Latin for "irrationality") describes a group of symptoms that are caused by changes in the way the brain functions. Senile (meaning old) dementia refers to the onset of these symptoms in older people. We have to be vigilant at all ages in adulthood. However, the most common conditions with dementia as a symptom include Alzheimer's disease and vascular disease, both of which are specific to older individuals.
Understanding Senile DementiaIndividuals suffering from senile dementia have impaired memory as well as changes in other areas of cognition, such as language, vision, and abstract thinking that prevent them from functioning properly on a daily basis. The signs and symptoms of dementia occur primarily in the absence of delirium and may be associated with an organic cause.
The classic indicators of dementia are short-term memory loss, inability to think through problems or to finish complex tasks, difficulty concentrating, confusion, and abnormal behavior.
Combating Senile Dementia NaturallyRemembering and forgetting things is a perfectly normal part of daily life. But we need not fear that the extreme and progressive cognitive decline that characterizes senile dementia will be an inevitable part of our aging process. There are a number of things we can do to positively impact our brain health and overall mental abilities as we age.
1. LifestyleMaking healthful changes to your lifestyle can be crucial in preventing the onset of dementia and keeping your memory sharp as you grow older. There are several simple things you can do to prevent the onset of senile dementia or to slow or prevent the progression of symptoms. In the following sections, I offer suggestions for improving your living environment, your physical health, and your social support system changes that can help you fight age-related memory loss and dementia. I have even included some coping strategies to make short-term memory loss less disruptive in your daily routine.
2. EnvironmentIt is important for your environment to be free of hazardous toxins, particularly heavy metals, that can accumulate in the body. Limit your exposure to cookware, deodorants, antacids, and food additives that contain aluminum. Mercury is found in thermometers, thermostats, and dental amalgams. Chelation therapy, which uses certain amino acids to form strong ionic bonds with the toxic metals in your body, allowing them to be excreted from the system, may be useful in removing toxic metals and other chemicals from your body. Bentonite, a clay like substance that is used in a drink, may be taken at night to draw out toxins from the colon and assist in the detoxification process.
3. Social ActivityContinued community involvement and frequent contact with friends and family may reduce your risk for senile dementia. In a paper presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia, Jane Saczynski, PhD, of the National Institute on Aging, and colleagues presented data from a longitudinal study conducted since 1965 that showed that subjects with decreased social activity from mid- to late life had a statistically significant risk of dementia. Continue to set goals for yourself. Having a reason to get up and get going each day can enhance your overall quality of life and contribute to mental fitness.
4. ExercisePhysical activity seems to play a role in slowing or preventing the progression of senile dementia. A National Institutes of Health news release cites research demonstrating that long-term physical activity increased the learning ability of mice and decreased the level of plaque-forming beta-amyloid protein fragments in their brains. Remaining physically active throughout our lifetimes offers immeasurable benefits to both body and brain. Physical activity does not have to be rigorous. Walking, dancing, or practicing yoga all help safeguard our brains against age-related cognitive decline.
5. Memory Skills and Brain BoostersIn addition to an active body, it is important to have an active mind. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine supports the theory that mentally demanding activities can help stave off dementia. The study involved 469 people ages 75 and older. Those participants who read, played games of strategy (e.g., checkers, backgammon, or chess), played musical instruments, or danced at least twice a week were significantly less likely to develop dementia. Those who did crossword puzzles four times a week were also found to have a significantly lowered risk. It seems clear that participating in mentally stimulating hobbies and being willing to learn new information and challenge our brains on an ongoing basis provide important benefits in preventing the onset of senile dementia.
6. Weight ManagementA recent study published in the British Medical Journal examined more than ten thousand members of a medical insurance program in California. The study followed subjects from their early forties until their late sixties and seventies. According to the results, those individuals who were obese at the start of the study were 74 percent more likely to develop dementia than their slimmer counterparts.
Coping StrategiesIf you or someone close to you has been diagnosed as having senile dementia, there are some strategies for coping with the symptoms of memory loss that may be the first hallmarks of this disease. These coping strategies will help relieve the stress and tension that arise from memory problems and can help lessen the impact of such problems on day-to-day life. Remember, in addition to practicing the strategies outlined on the next page, you should make the lifestyle and nutritional changes I recommend in this chapter to slow or reverse the progression of these early symptoms.
- Establish a regular routine in familiar surroundings.
- Make mental associations, such as using landmarks, to help you find things.
- Repeat names when you meet people.
- Put important items, such as your keys, in the same place every time.
- Label or color-code doors and exits to keep from getting disoriented.
- Draw a map for simple routes; write down directions.
- Make lists, use a calendar, and keep notes of important dates and financial matters.
- Set realistic daily goals.
- Keep track of when medicines are taken; use a chart or special pill box to stay current.
- Tell your doctor about all medications or supplements you are taking.
- Keep a list of important names and numbers near the telephone.
- Stay in frequent contact with family and friends.
Foods and Senile DementiaSusanne Sorensen, who serves as the Head of Research at the Alzheimer's Society states that "The best way of reducing your risk of developing dementia is to maintain a balanced diet with regular and frequent social interactions."Research into the causes of dementia is now demonstrating a point I have been making for decades: deficiencies of essential nutrients can lead to a variety of health problems and leave us vulnerable to serious conditions such as senile dementia. The good news is that it is never too early to start good nutritional habits that will help to protect the brain over a lifetime. And it is never too late to benefit from good nutritional habits.
Most Americans today eat foods that are over-processed and far from their natural state. These processed foods have been stripped of vital nutrients and filled with additives, processed sugars, and trans fats.
In addition to nutrients lost through poor diet, nutritional deficiencies may simply increase as we age. To help ensure that our bodies get the nutrients we need, we must make an effort to eat foods in their natural state. For people suffering from senile dementia it is vitally important to purchase organic foods whenever possible, because these foods are more likely to have trace minerals like chromium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc, which are vital to the brain's health.
Various studies support the efficacy of taking antioxidants as a method of preventing or reversing cognitive decline. Vitamins E and C are proven free radical fighters and readily available in foods like citrus fruits and juices; dark green, leafy vegetables; nuts; and sunflower seeds. The B vitamins, which play an important role in fighting the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, are found in fish, eggs, beans, and animal proteins. Trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and potassium are easy to add to our diets by using whole grains, nuts, dried beans, bananas, and milk.
- Supplements, Vitamins and Minerals. Certain vitamins and minerals are very important in fighting the onset of senile dementia. Always consult with a certified healthcare practitioner before taking any supplements.
- Calcium. Calcium from citrate can have a calming effect on the body, and a calcium deficiency can cause restlessness and wakefulness.
- Magnesium. Magnesium is well known for its calming properties in persons with anxiety symptoms, but proper amounts of magnesium are generally lacking in the average American diet. Individuals who use oral contraceptives or diuretics, and who overuse laxatives, are at risk of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium from citrate also assists in impacting circulatory problems.
- Potassium. Potassium is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body. Most of the time, supplementation with potassium is unnecessary, because it is readily available in our diet in such foods as bananas, orange juice, and potatoes. Potassium is depleted from our bodies in times of stress, thus upsetting the delicate balance of neurotransmitter communication in our brains. For this reason, potassium supplements may be useful in impacting senile dementia. Potassium can interact with some drugs, so if you are taking prescription medications, consult with your doctor before taking potassium supplements.
- Vitamin B-Complex. It is important that your daily vitamin B-complex contain sufficient amounts of both vitamin B5 and B2, because deficiencies in these vitamins can develop as we age, and these deficiencies can contribute to the symptoms of senile dementia. If your doctor has determined that you are deficient in B vitamins, you may want to ask about receiving intravenous or injected supplements of vitamin B-complex to prevent or combat symptoms of senile dementia.
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C may help delay the onset of senile dementia and slow the progression of symptoms.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E has beneficial antioxidant properties, and treatment with high doses has shown initial promise in slowing the progression of symptoms in individuals with dementia associated with moderately severe Alzheimer's. Because vitamin E has anticoagulant properties, and high doses may be associated with the risk of bleeding and interaction with anticoagulants and other medications often taken by elderly people, you should discuss high-dose vitamin E supplementation with your doctor.
Smart Drugs and NutrientsA number of other naturally occurring nutrients may have beneficial impacts on the symptoms of senile dementia.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ACL). This versatile nutrient is able to permeate the blood–brain barrier to stimulate and fortify the brain's nerve cells. Acetyl-L-carnitine is a type of carnitine produced naturally in the brain. It can aid in directing fatty acids to the cell mitochondria, assisting in the creation of new cell energy. A powerful antioxidant, acetyl-L-carnitine also supplements the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
- L-Glutamine. Glutamine is one of the most abundant nonessential amino acids in the bloodstream. It is produced in the muscles and is able to pass freely through the blood–brain barrier. Once in the brain, it is converted into glutamic acid and increases GABA, a neurotransmitter essential for proper mental function. There are two types of glutamine supplements: D-glutamine and L-glutamine. L-glutamine is the form that more closely mimics the glutamine in the body.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC). This amino acid protects the brain from damaging free radicals by boosting quantities of glutathione, one of the body's most powerful antioxidants.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS). PS helps the brain use fuel more efficiently. By boosting neuronal metabolism and stimulating production of acetylcholine, PS may be able to improve the condition of patients in cognitive decline. Studies have revealed that supplementing with phosphatidylserine slows down and even reverses declining memory and concentration, or age-related cognitive impairment, in middle-age and elderly subjects. As we grow older, aging slows the body's manufacturing of phosphatidylserine to levels that are detrimental to our functioning at our full mental capacity.
- S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe). SAMe (pronounced "sammy") has long been prescribed by European doctors as a treatment for depression. SAMe promotes cell growth and repair, and maintains levels of glutathione, a major antioxidant that protects against free radicals and reduces homocysteine levels. Alzheimer patients have extremely low levels of SAMe in their brains. SAMe should not be taken if you are taking MAO inhibitor antidepressants. You should consult with your doctor before taking SAMe if you suffer from severe depression or bipolar disorder.
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