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Is it Alzheimer’s or is it Dementia?

Is it Alzheimer’s or is it Dementia?

     As we age we all start losing our short-term memory. This is no different than losing bone density, losing hair or watching your skin get paler and thinner. However, as some of our loved ones seem to become more and more disconnected from the reality that surrounds our lives we get worried and hope they do not have Alzheimer’s disease which is actually a lethal form of dementia.

     People that have different stages of dementia usually live a very long time and their only problem is actually short-term memory and confusion as thoughts, words and ideas seem to slip away from them. On the other hand, brain processes that have been learned such as tying a shoelace, driving a car, brushing your teeth and even putting on your clothes form permanent patterns in the brain and are done automatically. That means if Uncle Charlie keeps on forgetting the names of the grandchildren but can still get dressed and tie up his shoes and have enough control to get to the bathroom he is just suffering from mild dementia. On the other hand if Uncle Charley is forgetting to go to the bathroom, brush his teeth or how to chew his food this is a lot more serious and is probably Alzheimer’s.

     The principal difference is that once Alzheimer’s has affected the brain, the patient will probably die in about three years because they will eventually forget how to eat and swallow food. With dementia these patterns will always exist because they are long term patterns established over many years and they will not go away. The established brain patters that allow us to drive without thinking, turn the pages of the newspaper and do up the buttons on our shirts are imprinted in our brains and are not destroyed by the amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s patients that destroy all the learned brained patterns.

     Some of us will suffer from dementia as we age and many of us will not. It is not necessarily based on how long you live or the luck of the draw but your chances of developing this condition are much higher if you are unhealthy, suffer from heart disease or diabetes or have had surgery, especially heart bypass.


     If you are a Type II diabetic you did not get this disease because you ate well and exercised. The sedentary lifestyle along with bad food choices caused this problem. Now that you are getting older and you are using a number of medications to control your blood pressure, your heart rate is reduced and the amount of oxygen that is carried by your red blood cells is greatly reduced. This lack of oxygen, besides causing damage to your extremities and your eyes will affect your brain, the greatest user of oxygen and will cause some degree of dementia. This is just one more effect of the disease.

     If you have a heart condition and require a vast array of medications to keep your heart rate down and your blood pressure under control, the result will be the same as the Type II diabetic. This reduced amount of oxygen to the brain eventually causes brain cells to die off and short-term memory is severely affected.  Many people who have a serious heart condition or diabetes and take a lot of medications are misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

     It is very important to understand that even if you fall into one of these categories or both, a daily exercise routine of walking, biking or swimming may prevent the onset of dementia because these exercises increase the amount of oxygen sent to your brain.


     Many prescription drugs have a detrimental effect on your brain. Cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins interfere with the ability of your body to repair oxidation damage because you may not have enough cholesterol to do the repairs. Drugs that lower your blood pressure and heart rate will cause a diminished flow of oxygen to the brain and may cause dementia. Anti-depressants which affect receptors in your brain and anti-convulsants which are used to treat people who may be bi-polar or who suffer from the pains of fibromyalgia dampen electrical charges in the brains and cause their own unique form of dementia.


     This is one of those unfortunate cases where the benefits outweigh the risks but by a smaller and smaller margin as you age. If you have had quadruple bypass surgery then your heart was kept alive and beating by a heart-lung machine for possibley 6 hours or more. Although this kept your blood flowing throughout your body and delivered a constant supply of oxygen to your brain it is not the same as the normal air that we breathe. Study after study has shown that within five years after surgery the majority of these patients are suffering from some form of dementia. The surgery has allowed you to live much later into your life and improved the quality of your days but your children and grand children may think you are coming down with Alzheimer’s when the reality is you are suffering from mild dementia caused by that long stretch of artificial respiration during your surgery.


     We used to think that as we age brain cells die. We have since learned that they do regenerate but people who drink alcohol in excessive amounts will destroy many of their brain cells and their constant exposure can cause permanent damage and dementia to the heavy drinker. People who smoke cigarettes are a lot less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s. Although smoking damages your arteries and reduces blood flow, the main active ingredient in cigarettes is nicotine which is a brain stimulant. Nearly every study shows that smokers very rarely develop Alzheimer’s disease but of course that may be because they tend to live shorter lives.

     Most of the prescription drugs that are approved to treat Alzheimer’s disease have very serious side effects, the worst of which is severe gastrointestinal pain and diarrhea. Unfortunately there is no definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer’s; no blood test that will say yes or no. It is only in its latter stages that it becomes clear it was Alzheimer’s and not dementia and by then it is too late.


     The best way to avoid dementia as you age is to stay as healthy as possible. Most people when given the choice of taking a pill for their diabetes or blood pressure would gladly pop this pill rather than have to restrict their diet and walk for an hour a day. However this short-cut may easily hurt you in the future if your sedentary life style starts to cause dementia.

     Take a careful look at your medications and what they are actually for. Ask yourself if there is any way you can do some kind of physical activity and possibley reduce or eliminate some of your drugs. Of course it is not always possible especially if you suffer from some form of arthritis or hip or knee degeneration but almost anyone with these conditions can still do water exercises. Ask yourself if these powerful anticonvulsants are really helping your muscle pain. Do you really need those anti-depressants that actually cause insomnia and make you feel really strange?

     If you can reduce your prescription drugs and become more physically active you have a greater chance of preventing dementia.


     The most important supplement to take to prevent dementia is pure fish oil, either Nutra Sea or RxOmega-3 by Natural Factors because either of these brands are the only ones that are 100% pure with zero contaminants and carry the designation of pharmaceutical grade from Health Canada. Fish oil also helps your arthritis and your heart.

     The second most important supplement is Coenzyme Q10 and if you are going down the path of dementia then you need about 400mg a day along with at least 500mg a day of alpha lipoic acid. Other supplements that have success with some patients are phosphatidyl serine and gingko biloba.

   If you want to avoid suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease you must not only keep your brain active but you must keep your body active as well. Try and eat healthy foods, try to maintain involvement with family, friends and projects, try to be as physical as you can at your age and like anything in life, the greater effort you make, the greater your chance of success.

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