According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death among adults with an estimated 5.4 million Americans affected. Families around the country are constantly looking for ways to help their loved one slow or prevent the progression of this irreversible brain disorder. While many have success with different types of medication, three surprising and simple things may benefit Alzheimer’s patients in unexpected ways.
1. Spend Time in the Sauna
Researchers in Finland found that men who sat in a sauna four to seven times a week had a 66% lower incidence of dementia and a 65% lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. They speculate that sitting in a sauna increases a person’s heart rate the way exercise does. Since it has already been discovered that exercise can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, even in those with genetic markers for the disease, any activity that increases heart rate in a safe way is highly recommended. Before beginning a routine that includes a sauna, be sure to consult a physician.
2. Have that Cup of Coffee
A study lead by the University of South Florida and University of Miami researchers found that moderate amounts of caffeine intake could ward off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Even those with mild symptoms, who drank two to three cups of coffee a day, did not convert to Alzheimer’s during the two- to four-year period of the study. This conclusion has been confirmed in other studies that explained why caffeine helps prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s. Caffeine consumption blocks inflammation in the brain which in turn prevents amyloid plaques, substances that impair brain function. As we age, it becomes difficult to allow adequate amounts of oxygen into the brain, especially without exercise. This lack of oxygen sets off a chain reaction that reduces cognitive function, ultimately leading to dementia and potentially Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine blocks the chemical reaction caused by hypoxia (a lack of oxygen) and keeps its function intact. Simply drinking two to three cups of coffee a day, the equivalent of 200 to 300 mg of caffeine can have a positive effect.
3. Love a Furry Friend
In general, having a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, boost serotonin levels (the feel-good hormone) and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone). In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, pets have served not only as companions but also as a way to beat anxiety and depression associated with the diagnosis. Even when caring for a pet is outside of a loved one’s abilities, many care facilities now employ pet coordinators who bring comfort animals to residents on a regular basis. In this way, patients get to experience the same benefits of pet ownership without the day-to-day care requirements.
By no means a cure, it is easy to see how simple changes to a person’s diet, routine, and companionship can have a profound effect on the way their disease progresses.