Alzheimers: How to help a loved one after their diagnosis: Guest blog by Hannah Boothe

Alone elderly man sitting on the wheelchair and holding a walking stick

(image: H Boothe)

The onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms in a loved one can bring one of the most challenging times of your life to you, as well as the one you love. How you handle this period will set the precedence for how your relationship with each other will continue as the symptoms get worse over time. Don’t let their diagnosis mean the end of your relationship. Find ways of helping along the way so you can draw closer to each other instead.

 

Help with Early Detection

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can make all the difference when it comes to how severe it gets over time. If your loved one has not yet been diagnosed, you can urge them to have detection tests performed to catch the development of Alzheimer’s early. Some tests monitor the development of certain proteins, called prions, that are directly involved with the onset of Alzheimer’s.

These are proteins found in the brain that force other proteins to fold or bend abnormally. When this happens, this equates to varying degrees of brain damage, since the brain can no longer function as it once did. The higher the number of prions in the brain, the worse the damage to the brain is.

To measure the presence of prions in the brain, one of two kinds of tests can be conducted. The first is the B-Panel test. This is for patients who don’t show any signs of developing Alzheimer’s but are at risk of developing it. Those at risk include people with a family history of Alzheimer’s and those who have had multiple head injuries, among other risk factors.

C-Panel tests are for those individuals who already exhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This is the test that provides the most accurate readings of the levels of prions present in the brain, and it’s the most trusted diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s.

 

Educate Yourself About Alzheimer’s Symptoms

One of the best things you can do for your loved one is to learn about the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s that are not so commonly known. For instance, hiding other’s things or being suspicious of others hiding their things is a symptom most people are not aware of until it happens and causes a great deal of strain to the relationship. They may also imagine things that are not there and insist they are, no matter how much you might try to convince them otherwise.

They may become violent when frustrated as well. This frustration is caused by their realisation that they are not in control of their minds and bodies the way they once were. They need your support and companionship now more than ever.

 

Avoiding Upsetting and Unsettling Situations

People with Alzheimer’s tend to be upset very easily, and this can range from mild to extreme depending on the individual and situation. For example, loud noises from the television or radio might upset them. You want to create an atmosphere of support and comfort around them to keep them from experiencing sadness, depression, and anxiety that overwhelms them. Having a daily routine can be crucial for those with Alzheimer’s. If you live with them, you should encourage this and support it. When there is a set routine, they are less likely to feel confused and helpless.

Do and say things to let them know that you are close by and are there to support them during this time. Never argue with them or try to convince them of anything they don’t want to believe. Remember that you are no longer dealing with a rational person at all times.

Remember this in your daily interactions with them. Only ask them one question at a time, and wait until they answer successfully before saying anything else. Don’t be afraid to use humor if you think they will respond positively. You can also use music, singing and dancing to improve their mood or distract them from themselves.

Above all, try not to let your anger or frustration show. The closer you were to them before the onset of Alzheimer’s, the more upsetting this will be to them. Instead of getting frustrated, walk away from them for a while and take some deep breaths before engaging again. Never forget that you might need this kind of help and companionship yourself one day.

 

This post is by freelance writer Hannah Boothe.

 

Dementia and Brain Health Decline: Can the MIND Diet help?: Guest blog by Eve Crabtree

nourish1

(image: Spotebi)

With more and more people each day taking steps to combat, prevent and manage their mental health, being as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically, is something that’s important to us.

That’s one of the reasons that many people are turning to the MIND diet to maintain brain function and prevent brain health decline and neurodegenerative diseases.

MIND Diet: What is it?

The MIND diet, Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, was created by researchers from a variety of universities in 2015. It aims to reduce the chance of developing dementia and a decline in brain health that is often associated with older age.

Elements of the Mediterranean diet and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) were combined to create the MIND diet. The reason these two diets were chosen above others is because both have been scientifically proven to have significant health benefits.

What was the aim of the study?

The MIND diet, Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, was created by researchers from a variety of universities in 2015. It aims to reduce the chance of developing dementia and a decline in brain health that is often associated with older age.

The study involved over 600 participants and took 3 years to complete. The participants, all of different ages, builds, heights and weights, were asked to follow the diet for the full 3 years whilst data was collected by the team of researchers.

Upon completion, it was immediately found that following the diet had a positive impact on the mental health and physical health of the participants.

One study found that of 923 older people that partook, those that followed the MIND diet closely had a 53% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those that only followed it loosely.

Additionally, even those that only moderately followed the plan cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by an average of 35%.

What foods are encouraged on the MIND diet?

The MIND diet encourages followers to consume 10 main foods that make up the majority of their food intake each week. These foods are:

  • Fish
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Other vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Berries
  • Wine
  • Beans
  • Whole grains

These foods have been recommended because they are low in saturated fat but high in good fats, protein, fibre and vitamins. Eating a varied selection of them each day provides your body and brain with everything it needs to be healthy.

What foods should be limited on the MIND diet?

Along with all other diets, the MIND diet recommends that followers consume a restricted amount of processed foods. This includes:

  • Red meat
  • Cheese
  • Butter and margarine
  • Sweet treats
  • Fried food

Researchers encourage limiting intake of these foods because they are high in trans and saturated fat – both of which have been linked to numerous diseases including Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

What are the benefits of following the MIND diet?

Along with slowing brain health decline and minimising the risk of getting dementia, the MIND diet has also shown to benefit physical health and wellbeing, reduce harmful meta-amyloid proteins, and decrease oxidative stress and inflammation.

 

  • Oxidative Stress and Inflammation

Oxidative stress is caused by unstable molecules, known as free radicals, accumulate in large amounts in the body and cause damage to cells.

Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to infection or injury. Although beneficial in small doses, if inflammation isn’t regulated correctly, it can become harmful.

The vitamin E in many of the foods in the MIND diet benefits brain function by protecting it from oxidative stress. Furthermore, omega 3 fatty acids in fish are known to lower brain inflammation and reduce loss of brain function.

 

  • Harmful Beta-Amyloid Proteins

Scientists have previously suggested that plaques, build ups of beta-amyloid proteins, are one of the primary causes of Alzheimer’s disease. These plaques collect in the brain and disrupt signals between brain cells, eventually leading to brain death.

Trans and saturated fats can increase beta-amyloid proteins in the brain which is why the MIND diet recommends limiting these foods.  

The bottom line

Several previous studies have been carried out that have shown the impact of eating healthily on mental health and wellbeing as a whole. Not only has a healthy diet and regular exercise proved to improve brain function, reduce stress, and improve memory, it also has a positive effect on the body eg weight.

Due to the fact the MIND diet involves eating a variety of good fats and nutrient rich foods, we can hope that it will improve general mental health and brain function as well as reducing brain health decline and combating dementia.

However, this is purely based on opinion and the results of this particular study: further research is yet to be carried out to analyse the extent of the impact the MIND diet really has on the brain.

The brain is complex and we await the results of more research over the coming years.

Eve Crabtree is a writer and health expert.