This is the story of my parent's struggle with dementia and how it lead me to help others avoid, or at least delay their fate.
My parents have always wanted the best for me and my siblings. We lived a pretty ordinary life growing up. I was amazed at everything my dad could do from fixing the car to pitching a tent. He was a voracious reader and devoured books on the brain. Even then, I think he was looking for a way to keep his brain fit. Things started to change in 2003 when dad retired from the federal government at 77. After leaving a long career, he came home to chores and long naps on the couch. He desperately missed the action at the office and no plan for what would come next. Before long, he started having telltale dementia problems. It started with forgetting the ATM code and continued with more frequent memory lapses. Before long, dad lost his ability to drive based on multiple fender benders. Mom never drove and her dependence on dad for transportation made things much worse. According to their neurologist, mom was starting to show signs of mild cognitive impairment, but not nearly as bad as dad at this point.
After about a year of trying to make this work, it became apparent that they needed a higher level of care. We sold their house and helped them move into an assisted living community. They adapted well and made friends with other couples in the same situation. Dad continued to read and use his computer. Mom developed a social network at the community. Eventually, mom started to have some health issues that required periodic hospitalization. It was determined by the staff that dad was in a codependent relationship with mom, and couldn’t live on his own while she was gone. Without her around, he was moved to the memory care unit in the basement.
The facility went to great lengths to make it seem as normal as possible. No longer able to freely wander inside and out, dad had physical barriers for his own safety. The other residents had a wide range dementia symptoms including advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Some of the residents seemed to be on a par with dad while others were given to screaming, crying, and reverting to a childlike state. As the months went on, I noticed that dad and the other residents often seemed to be zoned out. They would just sit in chairs asleep for hours on end. It was depressing.
We decided to move them to another nearby memory care facility that had a better care to patient ratio. Mom and dad shared an apartment, but mom spent most of her time with the assisted living residents as she wasn’t quite ready for full time memory care. They did seem to be doing better than the last place. The new place didn’t change the fact that mom and dad were getting worse. Dad joined a few other residents and started walking the halls for hours on end. There were some activities, but not enough to keep him occupied. Mom started sticking around the memory unit more and more.
Dad started to get more confused, and at times was unsteady on his feet. He had always been a big walker and has been in good physical shape even after he started slipping mentally. After a trip to the ER last year, his primary doctor told me he thought palliative care would be best for dad. What he meant was hospice care. I was heartbroken. I guess there is a point where doctors believe they either cannot or shouldn’t intervene to keep the body healthy. The hospice workers were great and have been very supportive.
Once dad transitioned into hospice, I wanted to do everything I could to make his last time as enjoyable as possible. I got him a new hearing aid so that he could hear any well-wishers who may pay a visit. Given that he was now off medical care, I wondered if there was anything that could make a difference in his mental state. He had stopped eating almost entirely except for a couple of Ensure drinks a day. As a result, he lost 20 pounds in one year which is dramatic considering that he’s only 5’ 4” tall.
I read several books covering different aspects of brain longevity. One in particular, Brain Longevity by Dr. Dharma Singh, gave me hope. In the book, Dr. Singh gave many examples of how diet and supplements can help with brain longevity and can even reverse some dementia symptoms. I went on to take Dr. Singh’s course and became a certified Brain Longevity Specialist. I also read many research papers on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease which are not available to the general public.
Within a few weeks of giving Dad the supplements suggested in the book, dad became more alert and aware. His sentences were better formed and he even started saying “I love you too” when I told him I loved him before leaving. Even more remarkable, he started eating after about several weeks of supplements. One day while visiting, one of the nurses told me he ate a bowl of Cheerios that morning and asked for a second one. Now, he’s eating at least two meals a day and has been “kicked out” of hospice care.
Update: After a short period of decline, Dad passed away in January of 2020 of Alzheimer's related causes. He put up a valiant fight and lived longer than anyone expected. Mom passed away in July of 2019.
From my experiences helping Mom and Dad, I learned first-hand that diet, exercise, sleep and supplements among other things are critical to brain longevity. Sustain My Brain is dedicated to their memory. We are focused on promoting brain longevity by providing information on key aspects of brain health including diet, supplements, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction.