Signs Symptoms and Treatment of Dementia
By Jacinta Brinnand BHSc Nat
Dementia is not one specific disease; it is a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain, altering thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Most people with dementia are older (65+ years); however, it is not a normal part of ageing. In Australia, there are currently more than 353,800 people living with dementia, with 25,100 of those being Australians with Younger Onset Dementia. This dis-ease causes damage to the nerve cells in the brain and is the second leading cause of death in Australia. On average, symptoms of dementia are noticed by families at least three years before a firm diagnosis is made.
New diagnostic criteria for dementia was developed and released in 2013 and it has been categorised as a Neurocognitive Disorder (NCD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). There are many different forms of dementia and each has its own causes that contribute to nerve cell damage. These include:
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Vascular dementia
• Parkinson’s disease
• Dementia with Lewy bodies
• Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD)
• Huntington’s disease
• Alcohol related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome)
• Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (Mad Cow Disease)
The early warning signs of dementia are very subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious. Some common signs and symptoms may include:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life
• Repetitive behaviour/other behavioural changes
• Difficulty performing familiar tasks
• Social isolation
• Confusion about time and place
• Problems with abstract thinking
• Loss of initiative
• Poor or decreased judgement
• Language problems
There is no effective known medical treatment for dementia. But we do know a lot about what affects brain function and brain aging: our nutrition, inflammation, environmental toxins, stress, exercise, and deficiencies of hormones, vitamins, and omega-3 fats. Some steps that can help reverse cognitive decline include identifying and treating conditions/ deficiencies such as:
• Pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome
• Low thyroid function
• Deficiencies in B vitamins, especially vitamin B12
• Omega-3 fat deficiencies
• Mercury or other heavy metal toxicity
• Vitamin D deficiency
• High cholesterol
• Unique genes predisposing to nutritional/detoxification problems
Our brain requires high levels of nutrients and oxygen – therefore, ensuring good blood supply to and from the brain is essential. Ensure your blood vessels are healthy, diet and digestive system are in order, regular exercise (preferably outdoors to increase oxygen levels) as well as adequate sleep are essentials. A major source of energy for the brain is sugar or glucose. As the following article explains, diabetes can also affect the brain. When this happens, the receptors for sugar become diminished leading to brain starvation. Other than sugar, the brain can also function on ketones which the body makes by breaking down fats. Dr Mary Newport explored the role of coconut oil in the production of ketones to help alleviate impaired brain function. Speak to your naturopath regarding good nutrition for the brain – remember Alzheimer’s and Dementia have their origins many years before symptoms appear so feed your brain.
Insulin: Predictor for Alzheimer’s?
Could Alzheimer’s be a form of diabetes? Brain levels of insulin and its related cellular receptors fall during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and as insulin levels continue to drop, the disease becomes more severe. Now, doctors are looking at memory problems like Alzheimer’s disease as a form of brain starvation, and one doctor says glucose metabolism can be the key to helping prevent this deadly disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Most often, it is diagnosed in people over 65, although the less-prevalent, early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier. In 2006, there were over 26 million sufferers worldwide. Alzheimer’s is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050. A recent study showed the inability of the brain to properly use glucose might be a key factor in the development of the disease.
“Type 1 and 2 diabetes are diabetes of the body, which means the body can’t handle sugar properly. Type 3 diabetes means the brain can’t handle sugar properly, “Larry McCleary, M.D., a neurosurgeon and author of “Feed your Brain, Lose Your Belly”, says diabetics have four-times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and those with prediabetes have triple the risk. Insulin and its related protein, insulin-related growth factor-I, lose the ability to bind to cell receptors. This creates a resistance to the insulin growth factors, causing the cells to malfunction and die.
“If you can’t handle your primary fuel source, then you can’t generate energy, and you lose function, and that’s pretty much what happens in Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. McCleary explained. “Changes in brain glucose metabolism can occur in people who have no symptoms. Their brains are functioning normally in their 20’s and 30’s, but yet if you do scan, you can see subtle changes in glucose metabolism in the brain and not just anywhere in the brain. They are actually in the regions where Alzheimer’s disease develops when you’re 65 or 75 years old.“
He says to prevent diabetes of the brain and the body, it’s important to make lifestyle changes that feed the brain while maintaining stable blood sugar and insulin levels.
“If your brain is functioning normally, but it’s starting not to work normally, that’s the time to start thinking about doing something about it,” Dr. McCleary said. “If you lose weight, you can get the glucose metabolism back to normal. If you can do that before you injure brain cells permanently, I predict that you should be able to reverse the changes in your brain.”
He says people with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, or those who have had a head injury that leads to memory loss should get tested by doing a simple glucose tolerance test once in a while. “If your insulin glucose improves, then probably your brain health will improve as well, but it’s better to do it early on even if everything is still functioning than waiting until the nerve cells are starting to die because once they do, they don’t get replaced,” Dr. McCleary said.
Dr. McCleary says if insulin resistance could be minimized by making proper food choices, he estimates that 40 percent of Alzheimer’s disease cases could be prevented.
SOURCE: Interview with Dr. Larry McCleary, 19th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging and Aesthetic Medicine, held in Orlando, FL, April 7-9, 2011