Diet May Help Alzheimer's Patients Live Longer, But What About Their Quality of Life?

  • A new study published in the September 11, 2007 issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology shows that the generally healthful Mediterranean diet may help people with Alzheimer's disease live longer.


    "'The more closely people followed the Mediterranean diet, the more they reduced their mortality,'" said study author Nikos Scarmeas, MD, MSc, of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and member of the American Academy of Neurology.'"


    Quite frankly, my first reaction upon reading the headline was, "But how about quality of life?" For me , quality of life means being able to use my brain in a fashion reflective of who I am. It means having use of my imagination. It means knowing my loved ones.

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    Everyone has different ideas about quality of life. There is no right and no wrong. However - with life being as unfair as it often is - many of us can have lofty ideas about quality of life, similar to mine, and then be left with no choice in the matter.


    That's what happened to my dad. His head injury came back to haunt him, he had surgery that put him in instant dementia, and he lived like that for another decade. My dad would never have considered that last decade a quality life. He would have said - he did say - that he wouldn't have wanted to live if he didn't have the brainpower that made him who he was. But, was that how he felt in his demented state? It depended on the day.


    My mom would sometimes say to me, "Can't you just give me a little black pill so I can get this over with?" I'd say, "Mom, I know you don't feel good, and I don't blame you for having those thoughts. But, no, I can't. So, let's find something to distract us both from this pain."


    People diagnosed with Alzheimer's don't have any choice either. They know they will slowly decline; that their very personalities will fade; that their brain will slowly wither. So, is it a good  or bad idea to eat well and live longer when you're suffering from dementia? That could be a hard question to answer, if just living longer were all the study was about.


    As I read the press release, I found that that wasn't the case. It went on to say, "Previous research by Scarmeas and his colleagues demonstrated that healthy people who eat a Mediterranean diet lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Studies have also shown that healthy people who follow a Mediterranean diet live longer than those who eat a more traditional Western diet, higher in saturated fat and meats and lower in fruits and vegetables."


    There's more. There may be hope for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's. The release continues:


    "'New benefits of this diet keep coming out," said Scarmeas. "We need to do more research to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet also helps Alzheimer's patients have slower rates of cognitive decline, maintain their daily living skills, and have a better quality of life."


    This, folks, is where I start jumping up and down with glee. This is where I go check my cupboard to make sure I have enough olive oil to get through the week. When studies start finding out that these dreadful diseases, whether Alzheimer's or strokes or arthritis or MS, may be prevented; that people in the early stages can perhaps slow the rate of decline; that they can have a better quality life - well then, I'm all ears.


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    The Mediterranean diet includes lots of "vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, monounsaturated fatty acids; a low intake of saturated fatty acids, dairy products, meat and poultry; and a mild to moderate amount of alcohol."


    This is an exciting study. Heck, the Mediterranean diet just happens to be a delicious way to eat. So, get out the veggies, my friends, and let's celebrate some good news that just may predict a better quality of life for us all.


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Published On: September 10, 2007