There has been significant media attention devoted to the ways in which people can reduce their risk of getting dementia through a range of lifestyle factors, including a healthy diet, exercise and not smoking. What has not been focused on to the same extent, however, are the ways people can reverse the decline of dementia once they have already got the condition. With ground-breaking research starting to point to greater possibilities in this area, it is important that we don't limit our encouragement of healthy lifestyles to the years in advance of dementia's onset.
For too long, those with dementia have been treated through monotherapeutic approaches, which involve single drugs that target single biochemical processes. Drugs have long been available which can slow down the initial symptoms of dementia, however they do not tackle the underlying causes of the condition.
Instead, we must take account of the research done by Professor Bredesen, published in 2014, which provides strong evidence for a multifaceted approach that recognises the multiple underlying causes of dementia, and focuses on a range of lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, sleep, brain training, and stress reduction. In terms of eating, Bredesen encourages those with dementia to cut out sugar, and take a range of vitamin and mineral supplements, for example. Supplement companies are taking a growing interest in cognitive support nutrients, with Cytoplan working to help bring Bredesen's protocol to England.
Bredesen's initial study showed hugely positive results in terms of the reversal of dementia's decline. Nine out of 10 participants displayed improvement within three to six months of Bredesen's therapeutic programme, and all six of the participants who had initially been forced to leave work were able to return, with improved performance. While more research must undoubtedly be done on the reversal of dementia's decline, and while similar studies must be done on sample sizes larger than 10, Breseden's work gives us much optimism.
We must move beyond a view of dementia which sees it as irreversible and untreatable, and look to the ways in which people can take active steps to reduce its decline, and achieve greater levels of empowerment as a result. Rather than rely on drugs, those with dementia have the opportunity to take control of all aspects of their life so that they can get back to their normal selves, and utilise the talents and skills that they have displayed in previous years.
The importance of empowerment, though, means that we must not force those with dementia to eat a certain way or do certain amounts of exercise. We cannot just take away all of the food that people enjoy, and which provides satisfaction. There are ways in which tasty foods can be made healthier, such as by producing custard without sugar, that strike a balance between the lifestyle that Bredesen promotes, and enabling those with dementia to enjoy tasty treats.
There is still much research to be done on how we can reverse the decline of dementia, but turning greater attention towards multifaceted lifestyle factors, rather than simplistic drugs, certainly provides hope for a way of the future. We have a real opportunity to empower people to take control of their own health, by eating well, tailoring nutrition to individual needs, staying fit, getting enough sleep, and managing stress, and we must not miss this chance.