Do you know anyone who has had Alzheimer's disease and then gotten better? For most of us, it is assumed that if you have it, you will not get better.

Do you know anyone who has had Alzheimer’s disease and then gotten better? For most of us, it is assumed that if you have it, you will not get better. The medical profession has not been very helpful in this regard. We typically tell people with this problem that they need to get their affairs in order, and can no longer drive, but are not as good about offering hope, and telling them what they can do to help memory issues. People with memory problems often do not come to the doctor quickly, as they don't think anything will be offered.

I went to a conference on Alzheimer's disease, and was pleased to find out that we do have things to offer in Alzheimer's disease that have been scientifically proven to have benefit when used together. One should look at this as a balance, kind of like a seesaw. If you address enough factors that benefit brain function, or take away enough actors that worsen brain function, you eventually reach a tipping point, and the disease can get better, just as a seesaw will eventually tip the other way when weight is taken off one side and placed on the other side. In the healthy brain there is a dynamic balance between factors that promote new synaptic connections between neurons and factors which reduce neuronal connections.

When individual drugs have been tested, they have not generally been effective, but that may be because our society is taking the wrong approach to this chronic illness. For many chronic illnesses, there are multiple factors that cause it, so it is unrealistic to think that one drug can cure it. In the case of Alzheimer's disease, there have been at least 36 factors found to affect the disease, and are likely to be more. It is not necessary to address all these factors to have the illness improve, but it is important to address a number of them to get it to improve. Addressing them causes an increase in factors that help nerves connect, and changes the way an important protein is processed in the brain, resulting in a decrease in the beta cleaving of the amyloid precursor protein, and an increase in the clearing of the beta amyloid that builds up in the brain in this disease and causes the amyloid plaques that are typically present in patients who die with Alzheimer’s disease.

If your memory seems to be failing, there is a reason for it, and you can do something about it. Physical exercise, sleep (7 to 8 hours per night), certain brain exercises, and a particular type of diet have been shown to help in prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Interventions are more often effective early on in the illness, so it is best to begin interventions early in life or when you are first noticing problems with your memory, before Alzheimer’s disease is even diagnosed, but these can sometimes even be of benefit in more advanced disease.

In regards to diet, a specific diet called a ketogenic diet – which is mainly plant-based and has 60 percent of the calories from fats, with 20 percent from carbohydrates and 20 percent from proteins, with some fasting – has been shown to quickly halt the progression of the disease in the majority of the people who have tried it, and to lead to improvement in a number of people over time. The effects of this diet are sometimes noted within days to weeks, although three to six months is a more realistic time frame to expect benefit on this diet. One of the problems in Alzheimer's disease is that the brain is having problems running on glucose, and this diet generates ketones, which the brain runs on quite well. The diet also improves the insulin resistance that is often found in Alzheimer's disease. Again, this intervention and others are likely to be more effective in combination when several aspects are addressed, with proper exercises, etc.

Dr. Hardwicke is a physician with the BMHD and the Balinger Clinic. The Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County is comprised of health care professionals throughout the county. Members meet on the first Thursday of the first full week of the month.