My mom was a very active vibrant lady who laughed a lot and loved life. She worked as a nurse for decades, caring for the elderly, babies, and adults who suffered from psychiatric disorders.

When she retired she took up line dancing and made a lot of new friends. She joined a seniors leisure club and enjoyed cross-country skying, hiking, and weekend traveling with this group.

My mother enjoyed her retirement for about 5 years but soon after started losing her credit card, her keys, and countless other everyday items.

I was devastated when the doctor told her she had Alzheimer’s disease. As an only child I was very close to her and even more so after my parents divorced.

I accompanied her on this path for the eighteen years after the diagnosis until she passed away two weeks ago. I’m heartbroken but I also feel the need to help others who could be affected by this disease.

When she received her diagnosis in 2000, Alzheimer’s disease was still a mysterious disease that was becoming more common. Since then, Alzheimer’s disease has become more and more widespread and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop any time soon.

An estimated 564,000 Canadians were living with Alzheimer’s in 2016. By 2031, that number is expected to increase by 66 per cent. (Source)

In the United States there were 5,7 milion Americans living with it in 2017 and this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050. (Source)

Here are Alzheimer’s disease risk factors :

  • Age
  • Family history and genetics
  • Down syndrome
  • Sex
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  • Past head trauma
  • Education level – less than a high school education

Although one can’t change inherited risk factors, “the strongest evidence so far suggests that you may be able to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by reducing your risk of heart disease.”

“(…) The same factors that put you at risk of heart disease also may increase the chance that you’ll develop Alzheimer’s.

Examples include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Poorly controlled type 2 diabetes
  • A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables

These risk factors are also linked to vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain.” (Source)
Over the past years, we also learned that certain dietary and lifestyle strategies could be beneficial to specifically prevent or slow down this disease.
At the International Conference on Nutrition and the Brain in 2013, a series of practical steps in dietary and lifestyle guidelines were developed for the public:

  1. “Minimize your intake of saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fat is found primarily in dairy products, meats, and certain oils (coconut and palm oils). Trans fats are found in many snack pastries and fried foods and are listed on labels as “partially hydrogenated oils.”
  2. Vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), fruits, and whole grains should replace meats and dairy products as primary staples of the diet.
    Vitamin E should come from foods, rather than supplements. Healthful food sources of vitamin E include seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin E is 15 mg per day.
  3. A reliable source of vitamin B12, such as fortified foods or a supplement providing at least the recommended daily allowance (2.4 μg per day for adults), should be part of your daily diet. Have your blood levels of vitamin B12 checked regularly as many factors, including age, may impair absorption.
  4. If using multiple vitamins, choose those without iron and copper and consume iron supplements only when directed by your physician.
  5. Although aluminum’s role in Alzheimer’s disease remains a matter of investigation, those who desire to minimize their exposure can avoid the use of cookware, antacids, baking powder, or other products that contain aluminum.
  6. Include aerobic exercise in your routine, equivalent to 40 minutes of brisk walking 3 times per week.”

These guidelines were based on substantial evidence of benefit and present no reasonable risk of harm.

“The most recent studies show that it’s possible to prevent between 30 and 50% of Alzheimer’s cases by adopting better lifestyle habits.” (Source : Estruch, R. et al. (April 4th, 2013). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. N Engl J Med; 368:1279-1290).

My mom didn’t have this information in time for her to benefit from it but you and I have the chance to start minimizing our risk today by following these simple guidelines. Why go without when following them could allow us to enjoy life for longer?

My mother and I, January 2018