Jean Carper has written a timely book of advice about Alzheimer’s disease for the lay person—and WVFC regular Roz Warren has written a witty account of her experiences with it, which we know you’ll enjoy. But after conversation with neurologists who specialize in Alzheimer’s research and treatment, I want to offer a few caveats.
Most of the information that Carper cites comes from association studies, not causality studies, so the findings have not been rigorously proven. Recent research on the use of medical marijuana does not support its ability to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s. Nor is the nicotine patch a well-established method of decreasing risk. Many of the food and wine suggestions are based on the assumption that antioxidants decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s. Again, that has yet to be definitively proven. In terms of wine, it has to be red wine, not white or rosé. And we can’t say with certainty how much wine is safe for women to drink—certainly no more than one 4-ounce glass a day.
On the other hand, Carper’s book does outline many changes in health and lifestyle habits that could decrease the risk of this terrible disease, and would in any case contribute to a healthier lifestyle in general.
So by all means, pour yourself a glass of (red) wine and see what Roz has to say about Carper’s book. —Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D.
Like most women, I don’t know if I’m going to get Alzheimer’s. Like all women, I know that I don’t want to. Which is why I picked up medical journalist Jean Carper’s latest book, 100 Simple Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss ($19.99, Little, Brown & Company).
Doing simple things is something I’m good at. And while I’m usually skeptical about advice givers, Carper is reassuringly credentialed. She’s written 23 health-related books and penned USA Weekend’s “Eat Smart” column for 14 years. Besides which, she’s got a personal reason to get this one right—the book’s dedication notes that she and two sisters share the ApoE4 susceptibility gene. (“Know About The ApoE4 Gene” is one of the things she recommends we do.)
100 Simple Things is a grab-bag of advice to follow if you want to stop the Big A in its tracks, from the predictable (“Eat Antioxidant-Rich Foods”) to the unexpected (“Consider Medical Marijuana”). (I’d be glad to! But first they’ve got to legalize it.) Each recommendation is presented in a concise chapter, which includes scientific data to back it up.
The book is packed with fascinating and potentially useful facts, such as:
- How long you are able to balance on one leg is a predictor of how likely you are the develop Alzheimer’s.
- Women who drink only wine—no other type of alcoholic beverage—are 70 percent less apt to develop dementia.
- Some people with Alzheimer’s temporarily become more lucid after taking antibiotics.
I began reading the book on the treadmill, which took care of items 99 (“Walk. Walk. Walk.”) and 37 (“Enjoy Exercise”). How difficult could it be to cover all 100? I decided to try to incorporate as many of Carper’s suggestions into my life as possible.
Some were easy. For instance, “Beware of Being Underweight.” Being underweight isn’t something most menopausal women need to fret about. Then there are “Google Something,” “Be Conscientious,” and “Say Yes to Coffee”—those three things pretty much describe my life in a nutshell.
Working in a public library, I’ve got “Have An Interesting Job” covered. But that makes it a challenge to “Avoid Stress.” The next time a patron hollers at me for refusing to waive his fines, I’m going to say, “What are you trying to do, pal? Give me Alzheimer’s?”
“Get a Good Nights Sleep?” No problem. Sleeping is something else at which I excel. But my sweet tooth is going to make “Cut Down On Sugar” difficult. Luckily, there’s “Treat Yourself to Chocolate.” (Cocoa increases blood flow to the brain.)
Thankfully, some of the advice just doesn’t apply to me: “Think About a Nicotine Patch.” “Overcome Depression.” “Get Help For Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” And there are other things I just won’t do, however useful they may be: “Play Video Games.” “Put Vinegar On Everything.” “Embrace Marriage.” (Been there, done that. Never again. )
Some advice is more easy to give than to follow. “Try to Keep Infections Away”? Good luck with that when you deal with the public all day. (Many of whom think nothing of sneezing on their library card, then handing it to me.)
It’s no surprise that much of Carper’s advice is about food and nutrition. “Eat Berries.” “Eat Curry.” (Not together, thankfully). “Drink Apple Juice.” “Drink Wine.” “Eat Fatty Fish.” “Go Nuts Over Nuts.” “Don’t Forget Your Spinach.” I thought about preparing one gigantic meal with all the recommended foodstuffs, but came up against “Count Calories.” Not to mention “Worry About Middle-Aged Obesity.”
It was fun to see how many of the non-food items I could combine. For instance, I was able to “Be Easygoing and Upbeat,” “Keep Mentally Active,” “Beware of Omega-6 Fats” and “Drink Tea” all at the same time.
But I’m afraid that “Be An Extrovert” will forever be beyond my capacity.
Most items, like “Beware of Bad Fats,” make sense at first glance. Others are more mysterious. What does “Have Your Eyes Checked” have to do with preventing Alzheimer’s? Read the book and find out! If you do, you can cross one recommendation—“Find Good Information”—off the list.