Mind your diet now, maintain your mind later
Years ago, a bicycling buddy and I got in the habit of occasionally skipping the typical Saturday group ride to train alone and do the sort of lung-buster that made you question your sanity - until the crucial moment in a big race arrived. He’s quite an accomplished rider, so if he would’ve been broken down and cried after such a workout, it would have been a real feather in my cap.
But on the day he did, the tough part of the workout hadn’t started, and I hardly felt triumphant.
Just as we met, he got a call on his cell phone and was told by the nursing home director at his father’s facility to find another one. ASAP! My buddy’s father had once again sneaked away to use the bathroom, used wash rags rather than toilet paper to wipe himself, caused the toilet to overflow, and then became violent because it did.
Talk replaced training that day, and that’s when the tears flowed.
It wasn’t that my buddy couldn’t handle that his dad sometimes put his underwear on after his pants, mistook his wife for his mom, or planned to vote for Nixon instead of that “young fella” in the next election. It was the nastiness and the violence, two things his father never was - until mild cognitive impairment became full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
By the time my buddy found another nursing home, the move was deemed unnecessary. The disease had advanced to the point where his dad could no longer ambulate or go to the bathroom alone.
When he passed away about a year later, I told my buddy I was saddened by his loss. “Don’t be,” My buddy said. “I lost my dad a long time ago.”
While I can only hope that you haven’t had an experience like my buddy’s, the numbers provided by the Alzheimer’s Association suggest it isn’t all that rare and will become more common.
Currently, the rate of people age 65 and older in the United States having Alzheimer’s is one in 10. Based in part on current eating habits and the growing rate of obesity, over the next 30 years the AA expects that rate to increase by 240 percent.
While I’d be willing to bet every one of my eight bicycles that my buddy had dozens of sleepless nights and hard-to-function days because of what this disease did to his dad, I’d even up the ante that you don’t want to create the same for anyone in your family. As you may well know, there’s no stopping Alzheimer’s once it gets started, but you can bet on this: Your odds of developing the disease increase or decrease based on lifestyle choices.
Including what you do and don’t eat.
Based on a study published online this April by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, what you do want to eat are apples, pears, and berries and drink green or black tea.
In 1970, researchers at the USDA Human Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston recruited 2,800 subjects who were healthy and at least 50 years of age to answer eating-habit questionnaires. About every four years afterwards, those who remained Alzheimer’s free did so again.
When the subjects’ consumption of apples, pears, berries, and tea was tallied and placed in quartiles, those in the highest quartile - who ingested an average of 8 apples or pears, 7.5 cups of berries,and 19 cups of tea a month - were four times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those in the lowest quartile. The researchers focused on these foods because they are high in flavonols, a type of antioxidant that protects cells and fights body-wide inflammation, something now seen as a cause of all dementia.
A study published prior to this in the January issue of Neurology also found flavonols fight Alzheimer’s. This conclusion was the result of the responses of 920 men and women whose average age was 81 and displayed no signs of Alzheimer’s when they started filling out food questionnaires over a six-year period.
From these questionnaires their ingestion of flavonols - found in virtually all fruits and vegetables to some degree - was determined and the results were divided into quartiles.
Those whose diets put them in the top quartile for flavonol ingestion were 48 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s when compared to the lowest quartile.
When asked for his takeaway on this study for an article found at the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation website, Dr. Thomas M. Holland of Rush University in Chicago and its lead author said, “More research is needed [but] ... eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more tea could be a fairly inexpensive and easy way for people to help stave off Alzheimer’s dementia.”
According to another study, another easy way may be to be more mindful of your food combinations, specifically to avoid eating “bad” or starchy carbs with processed meats.
Read next week’s column for the details as well as how exercise relates to Alzheimer’s.