Watch: Dr. Michael Mason Answers Common Caregiver Questions

Dr. Michael Mason, MD, TPMG with Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center spoke at the Alzheimer’s Association “Understanding Memory Loss” education conference in Fairfield last month. He answered common caregiver questions related to current treatments options and diet efficacy in fighting Alzheimer’s disease.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of medications — cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne) and memantine (Namenda) — to treat the cognitive symptoms (memory loss, confusion, and problems with thinking and reasoning) of Alzheimer’s disease. Namenda has been prescribed more commonly.

While current medications cannot stop the damage Alzheimer’s causes to brain cells, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by affecting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages among the brain’s nerve cells. Doctors sometimes prescribe both types of medications together. Some doctors also prescribe high doses of vitamin E for cognitive changes of Alzheimer’s disease.

Eating a heart-healthy diet benefits both your body and your brain. In general, this is a diet that is lower in saturated fats. Research in the area of the relationship between diet and cognitive functioning is somewhat limited, but it does point to the benefits of two diets in particular: the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet and the Mediterranean diet. These diets can help reduce heart disease and may also be able to reduce risk of dementia.

A growing number of herbal remedies, dietary supplements and “medical foods” are promoted as memory enhancers or treatments to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in older adults. Claims about the safety and effectiveness of these products, however, are based largely on testimonials, tradition and a rather small body of scientific research. The rigorous scientific research required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the approval of a prescription drug is not required by law for the marketing of dietary supplements or “medical foods.”

Marijuana is a controversial topic in the medical community, with some physicians advocating for its use and others concerned about the potential for addiction and long term effects.

Although there are differences among the existent types of Alzheimer’s disease medications, they do not affect the basic disease process and may be less effective in more advanced stages. The goal of these drugs is a temporary slowing in the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms, which might help maintain the quality of life and independence of people with Alzheimer’s disease.