“I feel a certain sense of comfort knowing there are factors I can control that can contribute to the decreased risk of me getting Alzheimer’s.”
That’s what Stephen Chambers, a 48-year-old physical therapist, had to say after he took part in the first trial of a personalized non-drug treatment strategy to help people at risk of Alzheimer’s. This breakthrough approach to stopping Alzheimer’s before it starts is thrilling the world’s leading brain experts. Here’s the story…
Research reveals many lifestyle interventions can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, yet they’ve largely been ignored by mainstream medicine. But not by Dr. Richard Isaacson.
He sees real value in lifestyle changes for preventing and even slowing Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why he founded the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian hospital in 2013 and began implementing lifestyle interventions with patients who have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.
Using Lifestyle to Save Your Memory
Dr. Isaacson gives patients a thorough health analysis that includes a battery of mental and physical tests as well as an MRI or PET imaging brain scan.
He gathers information on their current state of health, medical history, body fat, muscle mass, blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose metabolism, genetic factors, family history, diet, activity levels, stress levels, and sleep patterns.
Based on the results, each client is given a personalized treatment plan from among 50 evidence-based lifestyle interventions.
Hoping to get the attention of other doctors, Dr. Isaacson and 27 colleagues from across the US recently collaborated on the first trial of its kind to clinically document the success of personalized lifestyle therapy in preventing and even slowing Alzheimer’s related memory loss.
The team enrolled 154 patients aged 25 to 86 who had attended the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic. All had a family history of Alzheimer’s, of which 35 had received a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The rest had no symptoms of memory loss — but for many, cognitive tests showed memory deficits that caused concern.
On average each person had to implement 21 individually tailored lifestyle changes over 18 months. These included a Mediterranean-style diet to reduce inflammation and improve the intake of memory-protective nutrients, exercise regimens, nutritional supplements, relaxation techniques, brain game type cognitive exercises, sleep hygiene tips and more.
At the end of the study each patient was given highly sensitive tests that can detect cognitive decline well before memory problems become noticeable.
The results, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia in October, certainly got the attention of some of the world’s leading memory experts because they offer real hope for future treatment and prevention of this terrible disease.
Significant Improvement in Cognition
In the patients already suffering from memory problems (MCI), those that followed at least 12 of the 21 recommendations saw a significant improvement in cognition. But if they followed fewer than 12 lifestyle recommendations, their memories continued to decline.
In the larger group of patients without MCI, everyone performed better on the sensitive cognitive tests, even if they followed fewer than 12 lifestyle recommendations.
The results substantiated Dr. Isaacson’s belief that lifestyle holds the key to stopping memory loss: “This is the first study in a real-world clinic setting showing individualized clinical management may … improve cognition in people with the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s,” he said.
“I think this model is a road-map for physicians and patients to work together to improve their brain health.”
Other doctors and scientists not involved in the study agreed.
Marwan Sabbagh, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, said the trial proves “these strategies work, and I think that’s a very encouraging result.”
Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, said the trial provides hope.
“If we can postpone the onset or slow the progression of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, that’s very important.”
Even one of the world’s leading brain experts, Dr. Rudy Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard and one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2015, was excited by the research.
“We need more of exactly this type of clinical trial.
“We spend so much time waiting for drug trials, but really there’s a lot we can do to maintain brain health with our lifestyle.
“…sleep and diet and exercise and meditation matter. The way this study was designed and carried out is a great guide for the future.”
Lifestyle Changes We Can All Make Now
While an individualized lifestyle approach is optimal, here are some of Dr. Isaacson’s general lifestyle recommendations to slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease:
- Incorporate strawberries, blueberries, wild fatty fish, flavanol-rich cocoa, and extra-virgin olive oil into the diet. Cut back on sugar and simple carbohydrates but include whole grains and foods with lots of fiber
- Exercise three or more times a week, combining aerobic exercise with weight training
- Sleep seven-and-a-half hours and go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Avoid drinks with caffeine after 1 PM. For at least 30 minutes before bedtime stop all electronics, texting, email, etc.
- Learn something new like a musical instrument or a foreign language
- Minimize stress by taking up activities like meditation
One of Dr. Isaacson’s patients, 74-year-old Diana Gabriel, came to his clinic because she couldn’t remember what she’d done the previous day.
Like Stephen Chambers, she found that many of her cognitive deficits were reversed, after following a program created specially for her.
“I can tell you yesterday I went for training and then I went to a jewelry workshop and I went for wine with my friend and we met an interesting guy at the bar with the Newport Jazz Festival.
“I remember yesterday. For a year or almost two, I could not. My memory is not perfect. But this has really given me a new lease on life.”
Long-time readers of this newsletter know that Dr. Dale Bredesen pioneered a successful dementia protocol several years ago, so Dr. Isaacson’s work is not a first. But Isaacson seems to have won more mainstream acceptance, and that’s an encouraging sign that medicine is moving beyond the belief that there’s nothing you can do for Alzheimer’s.