Certainly a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis is the last thing anyone wants to hear. So what can you do if faced, either for yourself or a loved one, with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or a diagnosis of cognitive decline or dementia? First of all don’t panic. Dementia is not always the culprit for conditions like irritation, mood changes, and forgetfulness. Alzheimer’s and dementia can have many root causes that are not checked out thoroughly – and many of those causes are often reversible.
I recently visited the website of Sharp Again Naturally. They are a non-profit organization, formed in 2012, with a mission to educate the public as well as the medical community about preventable and reversible causes of memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. They are also advocating for new evaluation and treatment protocols as a standard of care for all dementia patients and those who have received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Below are eleven health areas you should immediately investigate before accepting a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis. These are health conditions that may be the root cause of memory loss and dementia and can therefore be reversed.
1. Nutritional imbalances and deficiencies.
Deficiencies of omega 3s, vitamin B12, vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, probiotics, and other nutrients can frequently be at the root of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Adhering to a very healthy, plant-based diet is associated with slower cognitive decline. It’s also linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. In fact, an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.
In 2012, a noteworthy study was published in the journal Ayu entitled “Effects of turmeric on Alzheimer’s disease with behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.” Researchers reported about three separate patients, ranging in age from 79-83 with Alzheimer’s disease whose behavioral symptoms were “improved remarkably” as a result of consuming 764 milligram of turmeric (curcumin – 100 mg/day) for 12 weeks.
2. Toxins in food, water, air, work/home environments.
The food industry alone uses 12,000 different chemicals as ingredients or for processing.
Over the past 50 years, chemical toxins have been found increasingly in our food, water, air, and work/home environments (in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fluoride, industrial waste, pharmaceuticals, paper and packaging, plastics, heavy metals, and more). Chemicals are so pervasive that well over 200 are commonly found in the umbilical cords of newborn babies. While a one-time exposure may not cause damage by itself, the number of exposures to a host of chemicals over the course of one’s lifetime creates a build-up of toxins in the body’s tissues.
Artificial food colors, flavors, and sweeteners can also be guilty. Artificial additives of all kinds may cause dementia symptoms. Studies show the artificial sweetener aspartame impairs cognitive function and leads to memory loss.
The electronic age also brings with it exposure to another form of toxicity, electro-magnetic frequencies (EMF). These frequencies are emitted by cellphones, cordless phones, computers, electrical wires and cell towers. We now have evidence that EMF’s contribute to the development of cancer; however, the true magnitude of the effects are not yet known.
3. Side Effects of Prescription Medications.
Although prescription drugs can certainly be life-saving, most prescriptions are written to address symptoms rather than causes of illness and disease. It’s not surprising to find seniors taking more than 12 different medications, whether at home or in nursing care facilities. This medication assault can make a person feel worse and cause memory issues and other side effects similar to dementia. The listed interactions and side effects of many medications include confusion, dizziness, memory loss, and disorientation. When the amount of medications is reduced to those that are required for comfort and safety, these symptoms often vanish.
Statin drugs can be particularly harmful. In one study from the University of California – San Diego, 90 percent of patients who stopped taking the statin drugs reported improvement in cognitive problems in a matter of weeks. And in some of the patients their diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s was actually reversed.
Another study showed that the sleep drug Ambien increased the risk of dementia in elderly patients.
A new study of 73,679 people who did not have dementia when beginning the study found that the ones who took PPIs had a 44% increased risk of dementia compared to the ones who weren’t taking the drug (JAMA Neurol 2016; doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2015.4791).
This is not the first time an ulcer drug has been linked to dementia. An earlier study found that continuous use of the histamine-2 receptor antagonists, like Pepcid, Zantac and Tagamet, increases the risk of cognitive impairment by an incredible 242% (Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 2007;551248-53).
Inflammation is the body’s attempt to get rid of a toxic element or organism. It can happen in many different situations, even root canals and urinary tract infections.
Chemicals and toxic exposure also lead to inflammation in the body, and can reduce our resistance to infection. There has been a rise in Lyme disease, mold, MRSA, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, all of which cause inflammation. The rise in food allergies and sensitivities is another indicator of how chemicals and GMOs have diminished the ability of the body to absorb and process nutrients. Much of this has to do with the chemical and antibiotic assault on the organisms in our gut microbiome which has an overwhelming impact on brain and bodily function.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) often masquerade as dementia in older adults. While symptoms of a UTI include painful urination, for older adults UTIs can cause confusion, agitation, or withdrawal. However, a UTI in older adults does not necessarily equate to a dementia diagnosis. Older adults can experience improper nutrition and/or hydration. Falls are often associated with urinary tract infections.
According to a new study, there are several toxins from fungi that could be released into the air indoors and the source could be fungi living in wallpaper. This study investigated the mycotoxin production by Penicillium brevicompactum, Aspergillus versicolor and Stachybotrys chartarum during their growth on wallpaper and the possible subsequent aerosolization of produced mycotoxins from contaminated substrates. All these data are important for risk assessment related to fungal contamination of indoor environments.
5. Stress from life changes and stagnation/inactivity.
Stress is just a natural part of life—we get challenged, we stretch and grow to meet that challenge, and we relax and recharge when the stressful challenge has passed. However, when the stress cycle fails to conclude, it can harmfully affect our physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Below are some options to help relieve stress.
• Find a hobby that you like.
• Find a YouTube meditation video you like and practice at home.
• Talk over stressful issues with a good friend, family member, pastor or counselor.
• Spend time in nature and in sunshine.
• Yawn frequently and stretch at least once an hour.
Stress can raise the levels of the hormone cortisol. In turn this can lead to inflammation and hormone imbalances, cognitive damage, increased blood sugar levels, hypertension, hindered healing time, and vulnerability to disease.
Animal studies have shown that increases in circulating cortisol lead to an accumulation in the brain of sticky proteins called amyloid-beta peptide (Ab) in between neurons and tau inside neurons (brain cells) respectively, causing the widespread loss of synaptic and neuronal function that underlies dementia, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease.
It is not uncommon for people to sit over 14 hours a day while watching TV, doing computer work, or playing video games. However, our bodies are meant to be in motion, and these sedentary activities can reduce energy levels and eventually reducing health. It has been said that sitting is the new smoking, making us susceptible to health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and obesity.
Depression affects one out of 17 adults over the age of 65. Common symptoms of depression mirror symptoms of dementia, such as mood/behavior, memory, and reasoning.
One study showed that in patients younger than 65 years-old, 41% of dementia diagnoses were incorrect. Misdiagnosis occurred most frequently in patients with depression or alcohol abuse.
6. Hormonal imbalances (T3 thyroid, HGH, estrogen, testosterone and others).
Around 30 million people, most over the age of 50, have thyroid disease. According to the American Thyroid Association, half of these people have never been diagnosed. Symptoms can include sluggishness, feeling depressed, forgetfulness, or anxiety.
Many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia simply have low levels of T3 thyroid hormone. The standard thyroid testing usually does not include T3 levels, iron levels and other important thyroid tests. Synthroid (T4), the thyroid med of-choice by most doctors, does not provide adequate help for many people. It’s likely that 10 to 15% of all nursing home residents may be there because of and undiagnosed low T3 level.
To get an idea about whether hormonal imbalances might be causing issues see a functional medicine or naturopathic doctor/practitioner to have your hormone levels tested, and receive bio-identical hormone supplementation, if necessary. Sex hormones should be tested through saliva. Thyroid testing should be performed by serum testing.
7. Mercury and other heavy metal poisoning.
Mercury, which can be found in food, air, and amalgams, can cause symptoms identical to those that define Alzheimer’s disease. Silver amalgam fillings contain 50 percent mercury which is neither stable nor inert. It off-gasses, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and destroys neurons even without contact. Removing amalgams can be very harmful to one’s health unless done by a dentist who is certified in mercury-safe protocols.
Another source of these toxins can be found in the yearly flu shot. Research indicates that people who took the flu shot for five consecutive years had 10 times or 1000 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease than people who only had one or two flu shots because of the high accumulation of mercury and aluminum in the flu vaccines.
8. Inadequate physical activity, mental stimulation, and social interaction.
Rapidly growing literature strongly suggests that exercise, specifically aerobic exercise, may attenuate cognitive impairment and reduce the risk of dementia. Among patients with dementia or mild cognitive impairment, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) documented better cognitive scores after 6 to 12 months of exercise compared with sedentary controls.
Zunzunegui et al found that a decline in elderly people’s cognitive function could be predicted by poor social interactions, infrequent participation in social activities, and social disengagement.
This study focused on changes in social interaction and found that a positive change could help prevent dementia. Specifically, this study indicated that elderly people’s engagement with the social environment and in intellectual activities would prevent dementia.
9. Sleep and breathing issues related to oxygen deficiency.
A very common breathing disorder called sleep apnea, in which sleepers stop breathing hundreds of times during the night, has been linked to memory decline and dementia. The findings are important because sleep apnea may affect more than half of seniors but is a treatable condition.
Sleep apnea has been linked to medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Poor sleep and sleep apnea have also been linked to forgetfulness and memory problems.
Several studies suggest that OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) might be a reversible cause of cognitive impairment and dementia, and that treatment of OSA, particularly in the early stages of AD, when patients are still largely independent, may decelerate dementia progression
10. Traumatic Brain Injury
Over the past 30 years, research has linked moderate and severe traumatic brain injury to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia years after the original head injury.
Falls are the leading cause of TBI for people of all ages. Those aged 75 and older have the highest rates of TBI – related hospitalization and death due to falls. Other common causes of TBI include vehicular accidents and sports injuries. Indirect forces that jolt the brain violently within the skull, such as shock waves from battlefield explosions, can also cause TBI. In addition, TBI can result from bullet wounds or other injuries that penetrate the skull and brain.
If you or a loved one falls, is in a car accident, or experiences a head injury playing sports or through other means, seek medical attention immediately. Treatment for TBI will vary based on the severity of the injuries. A traditional medical approach for treating TBI includes acute care, surgery, rehabilitation (including physical and occupational therapy), cognitive behavioral counseling, and other interventions.
Integrative therapies known to help TBI and restore brain function include neurofeedback and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy, meditation and energy work have been used clinically but no empirical studies have been conducted.
11. Hearing Loss
Hearing loss often affects older adults. Hearing loss experienced by older adults is called presbycusis. The loss of hearing can cause seniors to have attention deficit, to misunderstand verbal communication, and to withdraw from social situations. As you can imagine, people can associate these symptoms with dementia as well as an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Disorders of the ear are frequently associated with balance issues, which can lead to falls, so there are many reasons to be sure that you are seeking professional help.
Most doctors are not expert in these causes of dementia or how to treat them. Sharp Again Naturally is building a medical advisory board and a database to get the word out. It also offers help finding functional medicine specialists, naturopaths, or doctors who practice integrative medicine and are familiar in these areas.
Before concluding a person’s dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis is incurable, all of the above causes should be evaluated and, if necessary, treated.
If you are a loved one has received a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I highly encourage you to look for things you can change to get your lifestyle under better control. Just take it one step at a time. Are you incorporating exercise and a healthy diet in your life every day? Would making some important lifestyle changes put you in better health? When was the last time you cleansed your body? Sometimes these are important factors in getting healthy, but not always. At any rate, if your current lifestyle choices aren’t putting you where you want to be, I suggest making a decision to check out the ideas in this article. Dealing with disease is not always easy, but the good news is that any health situation can be improved!