In the film Still Alice (2014), a genuinely confused Julianne Moore introduces herself to her son’s girlfriend thrice during the course of the evening, much to the latter’s amusement and bewilderment. The critically-acclaimed film maps out a linguistics professor’s journey, as she learns to live with the debilitating disease called Alzheimer’s.
“Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia,” says Dr Mansi Chaudhry of Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, “is progressive mental disorientation that occurs in the middle or old age, due to generalised degeneration of brain”. A senior dietician and nutritionist, Chaudhry says Alzheimer’s is a type of neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline.
In total, there are some eight key modifiable factors that could help prevent the disease: early detection and treatment of depression, engaging in physical activity, high blood pressure treatment, early detection and treatment of diabetes, quitting and/or reducing the intake of alcohol, are some of them. Additionally, eating healthy also alleviates the risk, says Dr Chaudhry.
On the occasion of World Alzheimer’s Day (today), therefore, we bring you these super-foods/diet tweaks that could cut down the risk of the disease — three servings of whole grains a day; green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach that are high in essential B vitamins like folate and B9; berries like strawberry and blueberry that contain a flavonoid called anthocyanin that stops progressive brain damage; cinnamon and turmeric that reduce inflammation to prevent cognitive impairment; cold-pressed coconut oil as it is high in omega 3 fatty acids that help the brain stay healthy; coffee, walnuts (containing healthy fat, fibre and antioxidants); poultry products twice a week; beans thrice a week; less of fried foods and junk; foods cooked in olive oil.
While it has not yet been proven, there is strong evidence that several factors associated with leading a healthy lifestyle may play a role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and another type of dementia, says Dr Chaudhry.
“When patients repeatedly forget the name, find it difficult to recognise family members, have difficulty forming sentences, don’t recognise numbers, get lost in their own neighbourhood, etc., it warrants for a thorough evaluation and management by a neurologist,” says Dr Nithin Kumar, Consultant Neurology, Fortis Hospital.
“In the early stages, the patient forgets familiar words or location of everyday objects. In the middle stage, the patient has many difficulties in performing tasks such as paying bills. The patient may be unable to recall his own address, telephone number, etc. There may be a change in sleep pattern, personality and behaviour. In the late stage, dementia symptoms are severe. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place and individuals may need extensive help with daily activities,” Dr Rohit Gupta, Director-Neurology, Fortis Escorts Hospital, says.
Scientists believe that for most people, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time. Less than one per cent of the time, Alzheimer’s is caused by specific genetic changes that virtually guarantee a person will develop the disease, says Dr Chaudhry.
Age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s. It mainly affects people over 65 years of age, after which, a person’s risk of developing the disease doubles every 5 years, she says.