November 2021 – “Age-related memory loss is forgetting where you put your keys; Alzheimer’s is forgetting what the keys are for,” said Walt Larimore, M.D. In America, Alzheimer’s disease is in the top ten leading causes of death. That statistic has the power to quickly strike fear into any individual or family facing this disease.
But all hope is not lost.
Walt Larimore, MD, a lifetime member of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA), sat down with AFA Journal to help debunk myths and provide truth to those dealing with Alzheimer’s.
Big money, false promises
Dementia is a catch-all term that includes a group of progressive brain diseases. The diseases range from “age-related memory loss to Alzheimer’s disease,” with Alzheimer’s being the most common and most severe.
The Alzheimer’s Association stated in its 2021 report Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures that there are “more than six million Americans living with Alzheimer’s.” Due to the severity and prevalence of this disease, many older Americans are concerned and want to take preventive action. So they purchase supplements that claim to promote brain health or slow memory loss. Unfortunately, these medications are often nothing more than false promises.
“The research is crystal clear,” said Larimore, “There is no prescription drug, over-the-counter drug, medical food, or natural medicine, such as an herb, vitamin, or supplement that has ever produced a clear benefit for helping preserve memory or for preventing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
“More than a quarter of Americans age 50 and older are regularly taking at least one supplement for brain-health reasons, spending an estimated $5.8 billion annually.”
A major problem with supplements is that, unless prescribed by a physician, they can be dangerous. For example, if a person is on blood thinners or other prescription medications, the supplements can also potentially interact and cause negative side effects.
Larimore’s only supplement exception was for people with vitamin deficiencies. Those who have a proven nutrient deficiency, such as B12 or folic acid, need to take the correct supplement and monitor it to ensure they have the right amount in their system.
“But for most of us, these supplements are a waste of time and money, and are potentially harmful,” said Larimore.
Healthy choices, lives changed
Rather than wasting money on ineffective supplements, lifestyle changes have proven to be the best medicine in reducing the risk of dementia. A few of these important choices include eating healthy, exercising regularly, avoiding social isolation, and managing stress.
“Not only do these habits improve brain health,” Larimore explained, “but they also improve heart health and immune health, and reduce the risk of several types of cancer.”
It has been said, “You are what you eat,” and when it comes to choosing a healthy lifestyle, the right food is imperative. Larimore recommends the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay (MIND) diet. The diet has a unique scoring system that evaluates what a person eats and does, then generates a score.
“The MIND diet compares two types of food groups,” said Larimore, “the healthy group that improves brain health and the unhealthy group that damages brain health.”
The healthy group contains foods such as leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish, and others. Comparatively, the unhealthy group has red meats, fried foods, sweets, and other processed foods. By choosing to eat healthier and stay active, the higher the MIND diet score will be.
“When the high-quality MIND diet is combined with other healthy lifestyle factors,” Larimore continued, “there was a significantly decreased risk of Alzheimer’s dementia.”
According to Larimore, some of those factors include not smoking, moderate to vigorous exercising more than 150 minutes per week, and engaging in cognitive activities.
“The risk of Alzheimer’s dementia was 37% lower in those with only two of these healthy lifestyle factors combined with the diet,” Larimore continued. “Those who pursued four to five of them and the diet lowered their Alzheimer’s risk by 60% compared to those with no or only one healthy lifestyle factor.”
Caregiver woes, church’s role
When a family is concerned about their loved one developing dementia, they often spiral into a tailspin. Many are unsure of what to do, who to call, or how to accept the future. But instead of panicking, Larimore suggests that if individuals are concerned about Alzheimer’s and a loved one, they should contact their trusted family physician to get an assessment.
“Some of the early warning signs of dementia can be memory loss, difficulty with tasks, disorientation problems,” said Larimore. “A little loss of memory can come with natural aging, but a combination of these warning signs is worth getting checked out.”
Larimore refers to the primary physician as a “quarterback” for the family. During difficult situations, this doctor will direct, call, and care for the loved one.
“I tell my patients to educate themselves,” Larimore said. “Become informed by using trusted sources such as the Alzheimer’s Association. Be sure to avoid scammers and hucksters who want to sell false hope and hype.”
It is shocking for a family to see someone they dearly love be transformed by this disease. It is important to have a community that supports individuals during harsh times. And what better place to start than the church? Through small gestures of love and kindness, the church can be vital in ministering to families impacted by Alzheimer’s.
For churches, Larimore recommends having a staff member or volunteer available to pray and care for families struggling with Alzheimer’s. He also suggests having church members help in providing respite for loved ones.
The most important thing for the church to do is to be there for hurting people. Larimore told of a recent study where a church’s prayer team got together and called church members struggling with various medical issues once a month.
“That one phone call a month had an impact on improving the health of the people suffering from various conditions,” Larimore emphasized. “It’s the human touch that is so important.”
Hitting close to home
Several AFA employees have experienced how challenging Alzheimer’s can be in the family, but they have also seen God work through it all. They offer some encouraging advice.
“Rely on the Lord to give you the emotional strength to step out of your comfort zone and do this painful thing of seeing your loved one in such a state. Ultimately, it will be a (sometimes long) healing process for you that you would not trade for anything.”
— Jody Brown, American Family News
“Do not try to argue with anyone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. That person does not understand; their mind is not working as it once did. When they are being difficult, talk about good things from their past to divert or diffuse a problem. Cherish the good days!”
— Shelia Shoemaker, Donor Support
“You cannot be a caregiver and think you can do it all. You must have help from others. Allow time for you and your spouse to get away, whether that is a dinner or a vacation, without feeling guilty.”
— Carmen Stewart, AFA Resource Center
“Saturate your mind with the Word of God, and pray, pray, pray. God is faithful. He sees you and knows.”
— Stephanie Simmons, IT Department
Finding more support
▶ Christian Medical and Dental Associations, cmda.org.
▶ Peter Rosenberger’s radio program Hope for the Caregiver on American Family Radio (7 a.m. CT, Saturdays), or listen online at afr.net.
▶ Dr. Walt Larimore’s show, Ask Dr. Walt, on Liftable TV is available to stream with a paid subscription. His website is drwalt.com.
▶ Alzheimer’s Association, alz.org, 800.272.3900.