Imagine this, you are sitting in the rest home with your mother. She has a vacant look. She does not know who you are. You are there for your weekly visit, a visit driven by love, but also duty. Your mind tussles with the commitment of time spent with someone who does not know you verses the time you should/could be spending with your own children.
They do not come with you any more. Why should they? Your mind drifts to better times, so many rich and loving memories. Then that niggling thought in the back of your mind comes to the fore, yet again. Could this be me in 20 years? Could my daughter be sitting here, thinking these same thought? It is not so much the thought of death that is scary, it is the prelude to death: the fear, confusion, unknown, loss of control, loss of dignity, disappointment and anger.
Alzheimer’s is progressing at an alarming rate. 50 years ago it was something that some old people got. Today it is ranked No 4 as the cause of death. The incidence is expected to triple in the next 50 years. Women are more affected than men, at a ratio of two to one. A family history of the disease is one of many risk factors.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include progressive dementia with short-term memory loss progressing to longer-term memory loss. Language is also affected with the patient initially searching for words in conversation progressing to an inability to communicate. Other symptoms include an inability to carry out simple tasks, an inability to organize things and disorientation of body space. This can progress to tremors, gait disturbance and urinary incontinence. Mood is affected and depression, anxiety, and apathy can feature, with delusions, hallucinations, aggression and inappropriate sexual behaviour developing as the disease progresses. As all cognitive activity ceases, the patient enters a vegetative state.
What causes this insidious disease and can it be prevented? There are four main contributing factors to Alzheimer’s. The geek terms are followed by simplistic explanations:
- Amyloid plaque
A build-up of plaque in the brain that generate free radicals (bad guys), which leads to the death of brain cells.
- Neurofibrillary tangles
These are filaments in the brain that become tangled and cause the death of brain cells.
- Neuron and synapse loss
As the cells die and the space between them gets corrupted brain messages can no longer be sent properly.
- Chromosomal mutations
This refers to something going wrong in the blueprint of the cells so that they do bad things like producing excess amyloid plaque. It accounts for less than 5% of cases.
The conventional approach to treating Alzheimer’s is to wait until you get the disease and then treat the cognitive issues with drugs (none of which have been shown to have any permanent stopping or reversing effects); treat the mood symptoms with drugs (standard anti-depressant drugs) and treat the behavioural disturbances with drugs (usually sedatives).
Integrated medicine takes a more holistic approach. The focus is on what causes the disease and what can be done to prevent it. Alzheimer’s is a lifestyle disease. As we move further away from natural food and a natural lifestyle, the incidence of Alzheimer’s increases. Inflammation (your body’s reaction to bad stuff) is believed to be at the root of the disease. This is not about your body reacting to an event like a sabre tooth tiger. Here the body gears up to run or fight and then after the event returns to normal. What we have today is a situation where your body is in a constant state of reacting to bad stuff, i.e. chronic inflammation. This is caused by low level infections, unnatural foods, heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, radiation, and a host of other assaults on the body. Your body was not meant to sustain this continual defence or immune response. Chronic inflammation is the leading cause of serious diseases today.
After 60 years of age, your percentage chance of getting Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. Currently one in every two people over 80 has Alzheimer’s. This ratio is increasing and the age of onset is reducing. You have two choices: wait until you get the disease and take the drugs, which will not stop or reverse the disease, or do something now to prevent the disease.
A good prevention program involves seeing a knowledgeable naturopath, who will take the time and have the expertise to measure what is going on in your body at a biochemical level. This is the bench mark for designing a program to: reduce the microbial load, control inflammation, support the cells, enhance the immune system, support gut health, detoxify your body, and address diet, lifestyle and stress