By Dr. Mercola
Alzheimer’s disease has grown to be one of the most pressing and tragic public health issues facing the U.S. With no known cure and the number of people affected expected to triple by 2050, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that by mid-century someone in the U.S will develop Alzheimer’s disease every 33 seconds.1
In the documentary above, “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts,” you can see firsthand the steep social and economic consequences of this disease, along with its ability to completely overwhelm not only the patient but also their caregivers. Families dealing with this disease are families in crisis.
“This ‘tsunami’ of Alzheimer’s will not only be a profound human tragedy, but an overwhelming economic one as well. Due to the length of time people live with the illness and need care, it’s the most expensive medical condition in the U.S.,” the film’s website explains, adding:2
“Future costs for Alzheimer’s threaten to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid and the life savings of millions of Americans. It is estimated that if the number of patients triples as projected in the years ahead, the costs to care for them will exceed $1.1 trillion.”
Roles of Mother and Daughter Reversed
Via three featured personal stories, the documentary takes you into the lives of those living with the realities of Alzheimer’s every day. Aside from the emotional and physical toll, many struggle to pay for the long-term care this disease requires, while others are isolated in rural communities without access to care at all.
There, simply “the risk of wandering off can be fatal,” the film poignantly points out. While Alzheimer’s disease is typically diagnosed in people aged 65 and over (5.2 million of the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 or older), about 200,000 people have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.3
This is also addressed in the film, via the story of Daisy Duarte, the full-time caregiver for her mother Sonia, who was diagnosed with a genetic form of early-onset Alzheimer’s five years ago. “Daisy also carries the gene, so she is witnessing her own future as she cares for her mother,” the film explains.
Daisy is taking part in a clinical trial of an experimental drug to see if it changes the outcome of the genetic mutation, which, according to the film, virtually guarantees she’ll develop early-onset Alzheimer’s like her mother.
As the years pass, Daisy watches her mother lose the ability to help around the house, feed herself or shower. She also can no longer identify her daughter. With her mother now virtually helpless and unable to take care of her basic needs, the role of mother and daughter have been reversed.
Struggles to Place Loved Ones in Memory Care Facilities
Rick Shannon of Tampa, Florida, also shared his story caring for his mother Phyllis, who has Alzheimer’s.
In the state of Florida, a region that draws retirees from across the U.S., an estimated 510,000 people are living with the disease. This is expected to increase to 720,000 by 2025.4
Phyllis has lived alone since her husband died seven months earlier, a living situation that becomes increasingly unsafe as the disease progresses. Family members have found her wandering off near the edge of a pond and nearly starting fires while cooking.
Shannon grapples with feelings of guilt and financial hardship in placing his mother in an assisted living facility that specializes in caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, at costs of $4,000 to $6,000 a month.
Neither Medicare nor private health insurance pays for the type of care Phyllis and many other Alzheimer’s patients need.
Patients must typically exhaust their life savings before applying for help from Medicaid. The state then determines how much money will be devoted to long-term care programs. When enough funding isn’t available, patients are added to waiting lists that may go on for five years.
Others living with Alzheimer’s end up in emergency rooms for medical care, often unable to give doctors any details about their condition or symptoms. As a result, extensive diagnostic tests are required to figure out what’s going on with the patient. The film noted:
“Every test adds to the cost, and the workups are complicated by the fact that almost every patient with Alzheimer’s also has many other health issues …
People with Alzheimer’s are admitted to the hospital twice as often as people the same age without Alzheimer’s. Their costs for hospital admissions are almost three times as high.
They tend to stay longer and be readmitted more often. Hospital care is the most expensive part of the health care system. Since the majority of Alzheimer’s patients are over 65, they’re mostly covered by federal dollars through Medicare.”
It’s estimated that 1 out of every 5 Medicare dollars currently goes toward Alzheimer’s care, and this is expected to increase to 1 out of every 3 in coming years. Adding to the costs, the stress of caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s often sends caregivers into emergency rooms as well.
In cases where the caregivers are admitted to the hospital, their loved one with Alzheimer’s may also be admitted because they have nowhere else to go. In desperation, some families even drop off their relatives with Alzheimer’s outside of emergency rooms, knowing they will be admitted.
Also speaking to the enormity of the problem, the Alzheimer’s Association operates 24-hour helplines with phones that virtually never stop ringing.
Rural Alzheimer’s Patients Face Unique Struggles
In rural New Hampshire, the film follows family doctors struggling to care for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers with limited resources. About 40 percent of people with memory problems in the state live alone.
Many struggle with fears of losing their independence, but have no access to the specialized services or even hospitals or public transportation to get medical care. Shortages of doctors and facilities to care for Alzheimer’s patients are widespread in New Hampshire, leaving such patients with limited or no options.
The area’s long winters pose another hazard, especially since 6 of every 10 Alzheimer’s patients will wander at some point. State fish and wildlife officers may be called to search for lost patients.
Lack of funding for Alzheimer’s care is a problem not only in New Hampshire but at a federal level. The film calls for increased awareness and federal funding for Alzheimer’s research, noting that out of the top 10 disease causes of death, Alzheimer’s is the only one with no survivors and no way to stop the progression of the disease.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for instance, spends $5 billion a year on cancer research, $3 billion on HIV/AIDs research and $2 billion on cardiovascular research, but far less on Alzheimer’s research, while related deaths increase.
What Are the Underlying Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease?
It’s often said that the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease are unknown, but there are numerous theories. The accumulating research that suggests Alzheimer's disease may have an infectious component is becoming too plentiful to ignore. In addition to viruses, bacteria and fungus, an infectious protein called TDP-43, which behaves like infectious proteins known as prions, has also been linked to the disease.
Research presented at the 2014 Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) also revealed Alzheimer's patients with TDP-43 were 10 times more likely to have been cognitively impaired at death than those without.5
Mounting research also suggests Alzheimer’s disease is intricately connected to insulin resistance; even mild elevation of blood sugar is associated with an elevated risk for dementia.6 Diabetes and heart disease also elevate your risk, as all three conditions are rooted in insulin resistance.
Arterial stiffness (atherosclerosis) is even associated with a hallmark process of Alzheimer’s, namely the buildup of beta-amyloid plaque in your brain.7
From his research, Dr. David Perlmutter, author of “Grain Brain” and “Brain Maker,” has concluded that Alzheimer’s disease is primarily predicated on lifestyle choices and, in a nutshell, anything that promotes insulin resistance, like a processed food diet, will ultimately also raise your risk of Alzheimer’s.
Is Alzheimer’s Disease Preventable?
It’s also often said that Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented, but there has been intriguing research that suggests there are certain factors you can control to help reduce your risk.
For instance, seniors with severe vitamin D deficiency may raise their risk for dementia by 125 percent, and vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer's disease.8 Sufficient vitamin D (50 to 70 nanograms/milliliter) is imperative for overall health, and likely, for brain health as well.
Exercise can also reduce your risk of the disease as well as help with treatment. In one study, patients diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who participated in a four-month-long supervised exercise program had significantly fewer neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with the disease than the control group that did not exercise.9
Lifestyle Strategies to Lower Your Risk
Until a medical breakthrough can develop a cure for this disease, prevention remains the best strategy to fight it. Diet is essential, and a combination of very little sugar and low net carbs, along with higher amounts of healthy fat is essential to address not only Alzheimer's, but diabetes and heart disease as well.
My optimized nutrition plan can set you on the right path in this regard. In terms of your diet and other lifestyle factors, the following suggestions may be among the most important for Alzheimer's prevention:
✓ Replace processed foods with real foods
The vast majority of processed foods contain genetically engineered (GE) grains, which are heavily contaminated with glyphosate — an herbicide ingredient thought to be worse than DDT (DDT has already been linked to the development of Alzheimer's).
Eating real food will also limit your exposure to trans fats. As a general rule, to avoid trans fats you need to avoid foods containing or cooked in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
✓ Avoid sugar and refined fructose
Alzheimer's appears to be intricately linked to insulin resistance. Ideally, you'll want to keep your sugar levels to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you have insulin/leptin resistance or any related disorders.
✓ Optimize omega-6-to-3 ratio, ideally should be 1-to-1 to 5-to-1
Healthy fats that your brain needs for optimal function include organically raised grass-fed meats, coconut oil, olives and olive oil, avocado, nuts, organic pastured egg yolks and butter made from raw grass-fed milk.
High intake of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are also helpful for preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, thereby slowing down its progression and lowering your risk of developing the disorder. It is imperative to also reduce industrial omega-6 oils such as soy, corn, sunflower and safflower oils.
✓ Avoid gluten and casein (primarily wheat and pasteurized dairy, but don't avoid raw dairy, such as whole milk and organic butter)
Research shows that your blood-brain barrier is negatively affected by gluten. Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream, where they don't belong. That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which may play a role in the development of Alzheimer's.
Cream is perhaps the most important part of raw milk because the cream is where all the energy is that's needed to digest the milk protein casein. That's why it's important, if you consume dairy, to consume full-fat, raw dairy products instead of non-fat or skim dairy products.
The cream is also responsible for regulating the sugar absorption into your blood. It decreases the likelihood of insulin spikes.
✓ Opt for organic, grass-fed and finished meat
The vast majority of all store-bought meats and meats served in restaurants come from CAFOs unless otherwise labeled as organic or grass-fed.
✓ Optimize your gut flora
Regularly eat fermented foods or take a high potency and high-quality probiotic supplement.
✓ Reduce your overall calorie consumption and/or intermittently fast
Ketones are mobilized when you replace carbs with coconut oil and other sources of healthy fats. Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool to jumpstart your body into remembering how to burn fat and repair the insulin/leptin resistance that is also a primary contributing factor for Alzheimer's.
✓ Improve your magnesium levels
Preliminary research strongly suggests a decrease in Alzheimer symptoms with increased levels of magnesium in the brain. Unfortunately, most magnesium supplements do not pass the blood-brain barrier. Magnesium threonate appears to, however, and holds some promise for the future for treating this condition and may be superior to other forms.
✓ Get plenty of folate
Vegetables, without question, are your best form of folate, and we should all eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day. Avoid folic acid supplements, which are the inferior synthetic version of folate.
✓ Exercise regularly
It's been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way amyloid precursor protein is metabolized, thus slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer's. Exercise also increases levels of the protein PGC-1alpha.
Research has shown that people with Alzheimer's have less PGC-1alpha in their brains and cells that contain more of the protein produce less of the toxic amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's.10
✓ Avoid and eliminate mercury from your body
Dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury by weight, are one of the major sources of heavy metal toxicity, however, you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.
✓ Avoid and eliminate aluminum from your body
Sources of aluminum include antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, vaccine adjuvants and aluminum beverage cans. For tips on how to detox aluminum, please see my article, "First Case Study to Show Direct Link Between Alzheimer's and Aluminum Toxicity."
✓ Avoid flu vaccinations
Many contain both thimerosal, which is 50 percent mercury, and aluminum, well-known neurotoxic and immunotoxic agents.
✓ Avoid anticholinergics and statin drugs
Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence and certain narcotic pain relievers.
Statin drugs are particularly problematic because they suppress the synthesis of cholesterol, deplete your brain of coenzyme Q10 and neurotransmitter precursors and prevent adequate delivery of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants to your brain by inhibiting the production of the indispensable carrier biomolecule known as low-density lipoprotein.
✓ Challenge your mind daily
Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as how to play an instrument or speak a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.