I’m 30 years old and have seen two of my grandparents struggle with memory loss from their mid-60s, which ultimately turned into full-blown Alzheimer’s. I’m concerned about myself, but I read that in some countries there are medications that can reduce or reverse cognitive dysfunction and decline. Can I hope that there will be a cure when I need it?
Cognitive decline (decreased ability to process thoughts) affects one’s memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgment. It doesn’t affect consciousness. Loss of motivation, mood changes, and loss of emotional control may precede dementia.
Alzheimer’s is the most common dementia (60-70 percent of cognitive dysfunction conditions), affecting mainly the aging population. Dementia is common, with approximately 10 million new cases identified every year, and more than 50 million people living with dementia worldwide. More than 60 percent of these people live in low-and middle-income countries, where newer and more costly medications are not readily available.
Apart from Alzheimer’s, other causes of dementia include Lewy body disease, degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain, stroke-related dementia, infections such as HIV, repetitive brain injuries, and nutritional deficiencies.¹
Medications are in development that show limited efficacy in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s dementia. There’s currently no curative treatment. There’s good news, however, for everyone, but especially to a 30-year-old—take heart! There is a powerful way to protect the brain through a healthy lifestyle!
The Adventist health message and lifestyle have promoted such healthful habits for many years. Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neuroscientist at the McCance Center for Brain Health at the Massachusetts General Hospital, recently summarized the healthy habits that promote and preserve brain health in the acronym SHIELD.² These practices help to prevent other age-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease:
Sleep—Get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, giving the brain the time needed to eliminate amyloid beta, a toxic protein.
Handle stress—Walk in nature, garden, or work on a favorite hobby. Foundationally, we trust in God, pray, and study His Word.
Interact with friends—Meet and spend time with close friends or family you trust and can confide in at least once per month.
Exercise daily—Take 5,000 to 10,000 steps every day, or exercise for 30 minutes daily.
Learn new things—Read nonfiction books; try a new recipe. This is how we make new connections (synapses) in the brain.
Diet—Eat healthful foods each day (we recommend a balanced vegetarian diet).
“Pure air, sunlight, abstemiousness, rest, exercise, proper diet, the use of water, trust in divine power—these are the true remedies. Every person should have a knowledge of nature’s remedial agencies and how to apply them.”³
Lifestyle change needs to be intentionally incorporated into everyday living.⁴ Determine to focus on one habit each day until you’re ultimately focusing on all habits every day!
Don’t forget to “take up the shield of faith” and “pray in the Spirit on all occasions” (Eph. 6:16, 18, NIV). God will strengthen your resolve. He is faithful!
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.