W. Alvin McElveen, MD
Palmetto Health-USC Neurology
Alzheimer’s disease, a leading cause of dementia, affects 5 million people in the United States and 30 million worldwide. Sadly, there presently is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, though we continue to work diligently to find ways to treat it and slow down its progress. Research suggests that certain lifestyle changes may be beneficial. These include dietary measures, exercise and cognitive engagement.
Studies show that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than people who don't follow the diet. The Mediterranean diet actually may slow down the cognitive decline in older adults.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
- Eating primarily plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
- Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
- Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
- Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Enjoying meals with family and friends
- Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
Studies have shown that little-to-no physical activity can impair the mental skills that help you pay attention, manage time and get things done. People who aren’t physically active more commonly have memory issues and process information at a slower rate. These mental skills can worsen over time, so we urge you to get up and get moving!
3. Cognitive engagement
Increased cognitive activity is associated with decreased risk of dementia. Cognitive activity also can reduce the rapid decline of cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. Some recommended activities include:
- Arts and crafts, such as painting or knitting
- House cleaning (sweeping, folding towels, etc.)
- Organizing items in a house or office
- Tending a garden
- Cooking from recipes
- Looking at family pictures and videos
- Singing or playing a musical instrument
Many people with Alzheimer’s wake up more often and stay awake longer during the night. They may feel very drowsy during the day and then be unable to sleep at night. Some patients become restless or agitated in the late afternoon or early evening, an experience known as “sundowning.”
Non-drug treatments aim to improve a person’s sleep routine and sleeping environment, and reduce daytime napping. These include:
- Maintaining regular times for meals, going to bed and getting up
- Regular daily exercise, but no later than four hours before bedtime
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
- Tending a garden
- Not taking a cholinesterase inhibitor before bedtime (forms of this drug commonly prescribed for dementia include tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine or galantamine)
- Making sure the bedroom temperature is comfortable
- Providing nightlights and security/comfort objects such as a favorite pillow or blanket
In some cases, non-drug approaches fail to work or the sleep changes are accompanied by disruptive nighttime behaviors. For those who do require medication, experts recommend that treatments “begin low and go slow.”
For more information, including our current clinical trials, call 803-545-6050.