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Slowing Down Alzheimer's One Exercise at a Time

08-25-2015
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More than 5 million people struggle with Alzheimer's disease. There is no cure. However, doctors can help some people slow down the disease's progression. It involves exercises for the brain.

Alzheimer's patients undergo mind training at Dallas' Carrick Brain Center. For two weeks, they undergo exercises designed to reignite the brain's areas of memory and personality, according to Dr. Andre Fredieu, a neurologist and director of medicine at Carrick Brain Center.

"We've had patients that have resumed driving," he remarked. "Patients who are remembering their grandchildren for the first time in years."

For example, a patient focusing on a dot while moving their head can improve connectivity in parts of the brain that have deteriorated.

In another exercise called the axis rotation, patients experience different kinds of motion, which stimulates the vestibular area of the brain and reawakens memories.

'She Got Her Personality Back'

After her Alzheimer's diagnosis, Rosalie Kriesel gave up baking, although she loved it. After spending time at Carrick Brain Center, her husband David said Rosalie regained enough confidence and enthusiasm about life that she baked a cake and cookies.

"It really helped to start with, you know," he said. "I could really see the change in her personality was better, more bubbly. So she kind of got her personality back."

Jean Jones experienced terrible anxiety because she confused her nightmares with reality. According to her daughter Jolynn Hardon, that's gone now.

"It's really wonderful," she said. "And that was really hard on me as a caregiver, trying to be understanding with that and explaining to her 15 or 20 times a day that, 'That's not really what happened. That was just a dream that you had.'"

While these stories are encouraging, doctors want families to be realistic about results. Brandon Brock, a clinician at Carrick Brain Center, said they are careful not to promise a cure.

"The thing I can say is they're not degenerating at the rate that the disease normally declines at, which I think is very, very important," Brock said.

"The biggest thing we want to do is increase function enough so they can interact with their family, and then not lose that as fast," he explained. "Because everybody wants that extra minute, that extra hour, that extra day, that extra month. And if we can give those things, then I feel like we're restoring some humanity that they just didn't have before."

After patients leave Carrick Brain Center, Dr. Fredieu instructs the caregivers to make sure the patient keeps their mind working.

"Whether that's doing things on our iPhone, crossword puzzles, stimulating conversation. Not necessarily being in front of the television, but actually talking about topics. Those are the things that are going to help to really activate the brain," he said.

Necessary Brain Diet

Dr. Fredieu adds that the right diet can also play a key role in slowing down the progression of Alzheimer's.

"Well a good brain diet is usually pretty low in grains. A lot of the processing and the chemicals that we use to allow us to take grains from the field into the supermarket and keep it alive, some of those things are just not very good for the brain," he said.

In addition to grains, patients should steer clear of packaged foods containing trans fats. Research such as that from the University of Oregon shows that people who consume these hydrogenated oils performed worse on thinking and memory tests, plus had smaller brains, according to lead researcher Dr. Gene Bowman.

"We know that in Alzheimer's disease, that the brain shrinks at an accelerated pace as the disease and pathology spreads to certain parts of the brain. But if you have a larger brain and more brain tissue you might have a reserve to handle that pathology better," he said.

Scientists discovered that the people with the larger brains ate diets high in vitamins B, C, D, E and fish oil.

Coconut Oil Benefits

Some Alzheimer's patients experience symptom reversal by taking coconut oil.

This discovery came when Dr. Mary Newport worked with her husband Steve, who has Alzheimer's.

Before taking coconut oil, he was asked to draw a picture of a clock. He drew circles and several numbers just in a very random pattern that didn't look anything like a clock. Then Dr. Newport began feeding coconut oil to her husband.

Two weeks later he was asked to draw a picture of a clock and demonstrated stunning improvement. And after three weeks came even more improvement.

She included this and other research in her book, The Coconut Oil And Low-Carb Solution For Alzheimer's, Parkinson's And Other Diseases.

Dr. Newport believes some patients have what she calls "Type 3 Diabetes." This entails an insulin problem that prevents brain cells from getting needed glucose. She said coconut oil provides an alternate energy source known as ketone bodies that feed the brain cells.

"I do have a collection now of almost 220 reports -- mostly from caregivers and some from the person themselves -- reporting that they saw improvement after they started taking coconut oil," she said.

In addition to mental stimulation and a healthy diet, Alzheimer's patients seem to benefit from a stable homelife. That means minimizing chaos, keeping household items in the same place and sticking to routines, according to Dr. Fredieu.

"If you're adding a lot of new things into the environment, that can be a challenge for patients who are having memory issues," he said.

While lifestyle changes don't cure Alzheimer's, they can slow down the progression of the disease, which means more precious time with loved ones.

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