Alzheimer’s disease remains the sixth leading killer of Americans, taking the lives of more than 80,000 each year in the United States. But recent research on the effects of the disease provides clues into treatment, said Honor Health family physician Dr. Jeannine Hinds
“Studies show the brains of Alzheimer's patients have plaque, deficits of certain brain chemicals and inflammation. Some of these symptoms are directly or indirectly related to chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure," Dr. Hinds said.
The research suggests that a healthy diet can be an important tool to slowing down the effects of Alzheimer's disease, which begins damaging the brain 15 to 20 years before symptoms begin appearing. Researchers believe the cause of Alzheimer's disease may involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
“If we can make a diet rich in healthier fats, veggies and anti-oxidants, that helps with the inflammatory process associated Alzheimer's,” Dr. Hinds said.
One diet touted by researchers, known as the MIND diet, has shown a correlation with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. The diet includes a heavy emphasis on foods like berries, leafy greens, and fish.
Dr. Hinds said treatment of the disease is about management because a cure remains elusive.
"Part of being in medicine is you want to fix people. And this is something we can't fix yet," Dr. Hinds said. "Progress is being made. There is earlier detection. There are better prevention measures in place."
Dr. Hinds said one of the obstacles to effective treatment of Alzheimer's patients remains a lack of education in the community.
Physicians need to a chance to intervene as early as possible, and families should be on the lookout for signs of forgetfulness and mood changes in loved ones. Patients diagnosed earlier are better-equipped to get help.
FDA-approved medications have shown evidence of slowing down the plaque build-up associated with the disease.
"The earlier we can begin helping patients and their families, the better off they will be," Dr. Hinds said.
For some patients, Dr. Hinds also recommends they take part in research studies that may hold secrets for better outcomes.