Bits and Bites of Everyday Life


How to best tackle Alzheimer’s Disease

By Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair
True North Perspective

Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

My mother passed away on May 5th after slowly slipping into the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease. When I met with her doctor in late March, he confirmed the situation and explained what to expect from then on. After a heart attack last October and a bad fall in February, her health had taken a turn for the worse. On top of a weakened heart and serious cognitive decline, the body’s automatic systems were starting to fail. One of them, the capacity to swallow had become a serious impairment. She struggled with her meals and started to lose weight. A switch to pureed food seemed to help for a while … but soon, even that didn’t work.
By April 8th, she was but a shadow of her former self. Even though her birthday cake was a chocolate-mousse cake, she was only able to swallow a bite or two. She looked at me in desperation as if to say: “It won’t go down!”, but said nothing. She just stared, dry-eyed and frightened.
Within less than a month, she became bedridden, too weak to go to the dining-room. Even liquids were hard to swallow at that point. In a rare moment of clarity, she told my sister she wanted to go back to her parents’ home. She died on the evening of May 5th, a gorgeous Saturday when thousands of tourists enjoyed Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. Her funeral was held on May 11th, a final tribute just before Mother’s Day.
Since there have been four confirmed cases of Alzheimer in our family (both parents, Aunt Yvette and Uncle Roger), I have a vested interest in the subject.
I kept an article by Antonia Zerbisias who interviewed Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour. Dr. Small and his wife, Gigi Vorgan, co-authored half a dozen books on memory and the brain. Their latest, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program: Keep your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life offers strategies for warding off dementia, which they say, will become more prevalent as baby boomers age.
There are various forms of “dementia”, Alzheimer’s being the most common kind which causes a build-up of small, sticky, waxy protein deposits called amyloid plaques and tau tangles. They build up gradually till they reach a threshold that impairs cognition, to the point where an individual can no longer care for himself. In my column of February 4th 2011, I had written my first article on the subject “I’m finally ready… to talk about Alzheimer’s”. The article described our family’s journey through our father’s and mother’s Alzheimer.
Age is the greatest risk factor with Alzheimer’s so aging baby boomers are concerned about it. Studies show only a third of what determines our cognitive outcome results from genetics. So the other two-thirds of the formula are influenced by lifestyle choices we make every day: physical exercise, mental exercise, nutrition, stress management and others such as avoiding head trauma, not smoking, moderating your use of alcohol…
It comes down to sensible living: a sensible exercise regime, a diet rich in omega-3 fats, antioxidant fruits and vegetables, avoidance of junk food, plus stress and inflammation management… A stable home life, easy access to health care and an interesting social life may also be important pieces of this mysterious puzzle. Think of centenarians (Charles Toogood is 103) and others who survived the Great Depression, war, even internment camps with no chance of taking care of their health for years but still lived to a ripe old age, building a good life for themselves and maintaining all their cognitive faculties! They seem to have one thing in common: a zest for living, a “joie de vivre”. They know how to nurture social contacts, build and keep a varied network of good friends. They have had a busy and productive life and have stayed connected. My aunt Alda (now 92), the only one of Dad’s siblings not affected by Alzheimer, has always kept busy with family and home, preparing good meals, gardening, memorizing information, playing bridge, doing crossword puzzles, socializing.
So, keep healthy! Be optimistic! Make time to enjoy life! Keep smiling! Count your blessings every day!