5 Things that Help Dementia that your Doctor Probably Hasn’t Mentioned

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Photo by Anastasia Dulgier

As a researcher and writer for manufacturers of nutrition supplements, I was in a unique position to care for my husband who was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease right after his 60th birthday. Morris had opened and operated one of the first natural foods stores in Colorado in the late 1960s. After we married in 1974, I helped him run it. Working in a natural foods store was a natural fit for me because I had been a vegetarian for several years and was eager to learn more about natural health.

Later, I obtained a master’s degree in professional writing and my first job out of school was working as chief copy writer for a manufacturer of nutritional supplements. I learned a lot about supplements and ended up forming my own copy writing service. I learned how to interpret scientific studies, which especially came in handy when Morris was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

After the initial shock, I immediately went to work researching the drug protocol for Alzheimer’s. I discovered Namenda before it was FDA approved in the U.S. and ordered it from a European company. I gave Morris nutritional supplements, in addition to the prescribed pharmaceuticals, and butted heads with the neurologist who didn’t think that vitamins or minerals could possibly help someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

There have been some negative studies indicating that supplements don’t relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. But from what I can tell, they have been poorly designed and seem to be the fodder for sensational headlines. But there have also been many studies that show some dietary supplements can slow down dementia symptoms, and in some instances even reverse symptoms.

My purpose is not to convince you one way or the other. Rather, I encourage you as a caregiver to learn about dietary supplements and other modalities that have science backing them up.

  1. Souvenaid is a once-daily drink containing a mixture of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, uridine, choline, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium) with some clinical evidence to suggest that it can benefit dearly Alzheimer’s patients. Doctors can prescribe it as a medical food in Australia and Europe, but it is not yet available in the United States. It is, however, available online. Read about the clinical evidence here: https://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13195-019-0528-6

2. What about the use of cannabis for dementia? I live in Colorado where cannabis has been legal since 2014. Medical marijuana has been legal here since 2000. My husband smoked marijuana before it was in legal in Colorado to relieve his anxiety. He also ate “edibles.” It definitely calmed him down and made him happy, which may be the best outcome associated with cannabis. I did not notice any cognitive improvement.

This is the latest study on cannabis for dementia, published July 17, 2019.

 Limited evidence from one systematic review and one uncontrolled before-and-after study suggested that medical cannabis may be effective for treating agitation, disinhibition, irritability, aberrant motor behavior, and nocturnal behavior disorders as well as aberrant vocalization and resting care, which are neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with dementia.

There was also limited evidence of improvement in rigidity and cognitive scores as assessed by Mini-Mental State Examination. The evidence from the systematic review came from four of its primary studies, whereas its remaining eight included studies did not find favorable or unfavorable evidence regarding the effectiveness of cannabinoids in the treatment of dementia. Sources of uncertainty included the low quality of evidence in the primary studies of the systematic review and the fact that the uncontrolled before-and-after study was a nonrandomized pilot study in 10 dementia patients that reported descriptive outcomes without statistical analysis. No relevant evidence-based clinical guidelines regarding the use of medical cannabis for treating dementia were identified.

3. Vitamin D has been associated with memory loss and cognitive decline. Older adults with low vitamin D levels are at higher risk of dementia and may lose their cognitive abilities faster than those who have normal levels. This is one of the several reasons why everyone, except maybe those who work outdoors year-round, should take a vitamin D supplement.

4. Vitamin E includes several compounds: d-alpha tocopherol, high gamma tocopherol, mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. Headlines have screamed that people who take more than 400 IUs of vitamin E have a 5 percent greater risk of death than those who don’t take the supplement. Unfortunately, the studies analyzed in this report used only alpha-tocopherol, a synthetic form of vitamin E. The studies were flawed in many other ways, but the important thing to understand is that when you take a full spectrum vitamin E, you are protecting your brain, your heart, and your overall health. A recent study looked at the relationship between tocotrienol and Alzheimer’s disease. Based on its ability to act as a free-radical scavenger, the authors concluded that it has the potential to help reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29987193

5. I gave St. John’s wort to my husband until he was in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. By then he needed a pharmaceutical anti-depressant. But the St. John’s wort worked well for mild to moderate depression.

Here’s what we know about St. John’s wort:

Pharmaceutical drugs usually come with a long list of possible side effects. Although some natural products can also have side effects, they are not as common and are usually less severe. One thing to note, though, about natural products is that it may take longer for them to be effective.

It’s always important to read and study when caring for a loved one. Become an informed caregiver. It will help you, your extended family and the person you so lovingly devote your time and energy to. Blessings to you.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Caring for a Parent who is Resistant to Care

Upset womanIt’s typical for our parents to resist moving out of their homes if they need to be cared for or need assistance in a long-term care facility. They may think their children are bossy and forcing them into a situation they didn’t choose. People, in general, are also often resistant to having an aid or personal carer other than family in their home.

A friend of mine had to move his parents, who were no longer able to care for themselves, into an assisted living facility. His mom had broken her hip and his dad was blind. After spending a couple of weeks settling them into their new home, David’s mom accused him of kidnapping her and his dad. In the end, after David returned home, his parents found a way to move back into their condo. There are bad feelings on both sides and now David and his parents are not speaking.

When the roles of parent and child are reversed, awkward moments and emotions can arise. The adult child may feel resentment at having to provide support and/or care for the parents because the extra time detracts from his or her normal routine and work schedule. Sometimes there is a financial burden placed on the adult child. The parents may feel disempowered when their freedoms are limited or taken away. They may feel financially stressed, and not want to “be a burden.”

Here are some ways to help you navigate this touchy and stressful subject.

  • Talk with your parents’ Primary Care Physician to get a clear picture of their physical needs.
  • Although you want your parents to be safe, above all else, respect their perspective and autonomy. Listen with an open heart and mind, and share your concerns. Tell them you know that this is hard, and that you are concerned about their welfare and safety.
  • Validate their feelings. Ask non-threatening, open-ended questions about the type of care they might be willing to accept. “Mom, wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to cook or do laundry anymore?” “Dad, do you miss having coffee out with your friends?” Their answers will provide you with the opening to a discussion about how a caregiver or assisted living situation can make their lives, and yours, easier.
  • If finances are an issue try to enlist the help of a close friend, neighbor or family member once or twice a week for a couple of hours to assist with meal preparation, etc.
  • If this works and your folks get accustomed to having someone in their home, hire a caregiver agency to provide more care as needed.

What if you’ve tried everything you can think of and your parent is still resistant to help. Or what if your sibling wreaks havoc on what you’ve done?

If you sincerely believe that your parent’s behavior is contrary to what they typically exhibited previously; if they are unsafe in their home or are a danger to them self or others; if you have considered their dignity with respect, and you believe that their mental capacity is impaired as well as their decision making, you can activate a Medical Power of Attorney (MDPOA).

This is a legal document that authorizes someone to make medical decisions on behalf of another, only if one is already in place. If one is not in place and things are getting dire, consult with an elder attorney to determine if it makes sense to have a court appointed guardianship. This would be a last resort.

Most importantly, treat your parents with respect and honor their wishes the best that you can, always keeping their safety as a priority. Most everyone wants to stay in their home as long as possible. It’s hard bringing up this topic with our parents, but the earlier the better, especially when one of your loved one has dementia.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.