Common Sense Until a Cure Is Found for Alzheimer's Disease

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)? 

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia among older people. Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities. Dementia is the umbrella over AD, which begins slowly. By the time you are exhibiting symptoms, AD is quite advanced. It first involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. People with AD may have trouble remembering things that happened recently or names of people they know.

A related problem, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), causes more memory problems than normal for people of the same age. Many, but not all, people with MCI will develop AD.

In AD, over time, symptoms get worse. People may not recognize family members. They may have trouble speaking, reading, or writing. They may forget how to brush their teeth or comb their hair. Later, they may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Eventually, they need total care. AD usually begins after age 60. The risk goes up as you get older and if a family member has had the disease. No treatment can stop the disease, but some drugs may help symptoms.

Although AD symptoms begin with memory loss and confusion, the disease progresses to personality and cognitive changes, and ultimately to a severe loss of mental function.  There are three major hallmarks in the brain that are associated with the disease processes of AD:

  • Amyloid plaques, which are made up of fragments of a protein called beta-amyloid peptide mixed with a collection of additional proteins, remnants of neurons, and bits and pieces of other nerve cells.
  • Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs), found inside neurons, are abnormal collections of a protein called tau. Normal tau is required for healthy neurons. However, in AD, tau clumps together. As a result, neurons fail to function normally and eventually die.
  • Loss of connections between neurons responsible for memory and learning. Neurons can't survive when they lose their connections to other neurons. As neurons die throughout the brain, the affected regions begin to atrophy, or shrink. By the final stage of AD, damage is widespread and brain tissue has shrunk significantly (NINDS).

How is AD Diagnosed?

Alzheimer’s Disease is diagnosed with uncomfortable and expensive tests like a spinal tap or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A simpler diagnosis is to try the peanut butter smell test. Close your eyes while someone holds a jar of peanut butter first at your right nostril and then at your left nostril. In the early stages of AD, University of Florida researchers needed to move the peanut butter jar an average of ten centimeters closer to the left nostril before the patient could smell it. Losing the sense of smell is often one of the first signs of cognitive decline, and AD-related brain shrinkage begins on the left side of the brain (Wint).

Researchers note that the umbrella dementia is linked to birthplace— “a robust risk factor.” Nine states, mostly in the south, lead the rest in risk for dementia: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Texas is incredibly close to Oklahoma and Louisiana (“Dementia”). We cannot be complacent. 

What Are the Treatments for the Disease? 

Four FDA approved medicines treat symptoms for perhaps a couple of years, but currently there are no cures for AD. The usual length of the disease before the brain dies is approximately eight years. 

What Can We Do to Prevent the Disease? 

Some forms of dementia are caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Obviously, there are both drugs and common-sense procedures to take care of these issues.

  • Begin a regimen of no quarter given in eating a healthy diet. When you read that dark chocolate is healthy, forget it. It is sweet, and when you eat sweets, it only encourages you—drags you into craving more sweets.  Avoid processed foods. They have been linked to 300 percent increase in food allergies for adults in the last ten years (Nightly News). Study for yourself what diets are best for your health issue.
  • Begin a regimen of no quarter given for exercise. If you are not walking and are able to walk, shame on you. Integrate cardiac exercises into the package too.
    • Purchase a pedometer to count your daily steps. Six thousand steps a day is a good goal, but don’t be satisfied with a 2 ½ mile stroll. In fact, pump your heart up and walk at a faster clip than a stroll. Strolling is better than nothing. Cleaning your house may add up to two miles a day if you vacuum, mop, dust, and do laundry all on the same day. Walking will motivate you to clean more often and perhaps get rid of some of the clutter that becomes dust collectors that trigger your winter allergies. Every step will become a happy step, once you get motivated to take charge of your life. 
  • If you are a type 2 diabetic, do not rely solely on the drugs. Take charge of your own health with diet, exercise, and good sleep patterns. Drugs become an excuse to think you can eat whatever you want. Remember that diabetes is one known cause of dementia.
  • Engage in an activity that adds quality to your life, like gardening. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson gardened extensively at Monticello? He wrote, “the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” Jefferson believed that his introduction of the olive tree and upland rice in America was as important as his work on the Declaration of Independence. Gardening improves air quality by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, reducing noise pollution, minimizing erosion, improving water quality, reducing runoff, and acting as windbreaks. The major benefits occur from the act of gardening. The exercise relieves stress, and enjoying the beauty of flowers and the taste of fruits and vegetables begins a healing process in your body (Hatton).
  • Support financially the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk for the Cure. Walk and give (Freeman).
  • Development the creative sides of the brain. Paula Spencer Scott cites research that says tapping the creative brain by participating in the arts help AD patient forget what’s lost and enrich what’s left.
    • Theater arts like storytelling (see timeslips.org) helps AD patients get out of their isolation and improve their communication.
    • Karla Huston is on a mission to bring poetry to Memory Cafes (a kind of social support group for AD patients. Hearing, reciting, and writing poetry is the goal.
    • Pick up an art form that you let go of earlier:  quilting, painting, taking piano lessons, learning a new language like Greek or Italian.

If these activities help those with AD, imagine what they can do for you without AD.

Research shows we cannot prevent AD, we cannot cure AD, but we can improve our lives by living with a little common sense.

Works Cited

Another Failure in Search for Treatment to Slow Alzheimer’s.” AP Indianapolis. rpt. in Borger News-

       Herald. Nov. 2, 2016. p. 4.

“Dementia Linked to Birthplace.” AARP Bulletin. Nov. 2017.  p. 4.

Freeman, Ty. “Congress Needs to Act in Fight against Alzheimer’s.” Amarillo Globe-News. Dec. 21,

2017. p. 6.

Hatton, Bob. “Plants Add to Environment, Quality of Life.” Amarillo Globe-News. Aug. 6, 2017. p. C5.

Nightly News with Lester Holt. Sept. 28, 2017.

NINDS: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. <https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders...

            Jan. 2, 2017.

Scott, Paula Spencer. “Tapping the Creative Brain.” Parade. August 13, 2017. p. 12.

Wint, Dylan, Neurologist and Degenerative Brain Diseases Specialist. “Smell Test.”

<healtlh.clevelandclinic.org>. rpt. in Spry Living. June 2017. p. 5.