It must have been heart-breaking for Mark Hatzer to realize his mother Sylvia, an 82-year-old dementia sufferer, could no longer recognize her own son. The last thing he wanted was to lose another parent but as her condition worsened, Sylvia was admitted to North Manchester General Hospital for her own safety.
During her time there, it was challenging in a number of ways. Sylvia’s memory began wavering in 2015 and she would often struggle to recall plans she made or birthdays. But it was in December 2016 that doctors diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease and when Mark noticed his mother’s rapid deterioration.
Failing to remember lunch plans and birthdays is understandable with age. Sylvia had even called the police and accused nurses at the hospital of kidnapping, which is forgivable. However, it was when Mark’s mom could not recognize him that he felt he “reached the lowest point of his life.”
Road to Recovery: How Sylvia Hatzer Beat Dementia
Sylvia had been in hospital for two months before doctors allowed her to be discharged from the hospital. She wasn’t yet in the clear, though. Sylvia was still exhibiting all the early signs and symptoms of dementia…
- Memory problems (especially short-term)
- Increased confusion
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes in personality or behavior
- Generally withdrawn, apathetic, or depressed
- Unable to complete simple, everyday tasks
However, it was the Hatzer family’s next steps that made all the difference.
“When she left hospital, instead of prescribed medication, we thought we’d perhaps try alternative treatment… In [Mediterranean] countries Alzheimer’s is virtually unheard of because of their diet.
Everyone knows about fish but there are also blueberries, strawberries, Brazil nuts and walnuts – these are apparently shaped like a brain to give us a sign that they are good for the brain.”
Researcher have studied diets from Mediterranean countries (e.g., France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Turkey) for quite some time now. Scientists and Mediterranean natives alike tout these cultural diets as being helpful for improving memory or thinking and reducing dementia risk.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, “Mediterranean diets are traditionally high in fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals, with moderate consumption of oily fish and dairy, and low in meat, sugar and saturated fat.”
More Evidence That Mediterranean Diets Can Prevent and Treat Dementia
In fact, research presented at the July 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International conference revealed that eating a Mediterranean diet could significantly lower adults’ risk of dementia. The study, led by University of California’s Claire McEvoy, analyzed ~6,000 Americans’ eating habits.
And although the average age of participants was 68-years-old, the study was nationally representative enough for its findings to be relevant to the general public, as reported by CNN.
“After adjusting for age, gender, race, low educational attainment and lifestyle and health issues – such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, depression, smoking and physical inactivity – researchers found that those who followed the MIND or Mediterranean diet had a 30% to 35% lower risk of cognitive impairment.”
A 2013 systematic review published in Epidemiology analyzed the results of 12 relevant scientific papers to see whether Mediterranean diets could positively affect cognitive function.
In it, researchers found “that greater adherence to Mediterranean diet is associated with slower cognitive decline and lower risk of developing Alzheimer disease.”
Another 2016 systematic review published in Advances in Nutrition further reiterated earlier findings. Although researchers require more studies before they make causation claims between Mediterranean diets and dementia prevention, they do acknowledge “that adherence to the MD is associated with better cognitive performance.”
What Else Did Sylvia Do That Helped Reverse Dementia?
Mark shared that his mother also frequently performed cognitive exercises. These included things such as crosswords and jigsaw puzzles, as well as staying engaged in social clubs. He even got his mother a pedaling device that helps her exercise while sitting down.
“It wasn’t an overnight miracle but after a couple of months she began remembering things like birthdays and was becoming her old self again, more alert, more engaged. People think that once you get a diagnosis your life is at an end. You will have good and bad days but it doesn’t have to be the end.”
If someone at 82-years-old was able to make a real-life difference through diet, who’s to say you can’t also benefit? Changes don’t need to be big either! So, whether you choose to tweak your diet, stop a smoking habit, or any other lifestyle habits to prevent dementia, you can start protecting your brain today.
Read More to Keep Your Brain Healthy: 9 Habits You Should Start Today for Dementia Prevention
- Scapens, A. (n.d.). Mum, 82, who couldn’t recognise her own son due to dementia gets memory back – after changing her diet. Retrieved from https://www.msn.com/en-gb/health/familyhealth/mum-82-who-couldn-t-recognise-her-own-son-due-to-dementia-gets-memory-back-after-changing-her-diet/ar-AAwb4cd
- Department of Health & Human Services. (2014, May 31). Dementia – early signs. Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dementia-early-signs
- Alzheimer’s Society. (2016, December 02). Mediterranean diet. Retrieved from https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20010/risk_factors_and_prevention/149/mediterranean_diet
- LaMotte, S. (2017, July 17). Mediterranean style diet may prevent dementia. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2017/07/17/health/mediterranean-style-diet-prevents-dementia/index.html
- Lourida, I., Soni, M., Thompson-Coon, J., Purandare, N., Lang, I. A., Ukoumunne, O. C., & Llewellyn, D. J. (2013, July). Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia: A systematic review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23680940
- Petersson, S. D., & Philippou, E. (2016, September). Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function, and Dementia: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015034/
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