Functional Medicine: Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer’s
This is the beautiful Buck Institute for Ageing Research, based about 40 miles North of San Fransisco. I took this picture on the first day of training with Professor Dale Bredesen in November 2016. Its early morning, shortly after sunrise. The Institute has a beautiful vista high on the hill, outside a pretty little town called Novato. I spent 4 days immersed in the science and application of Professor Bredesen’s work with helping patients to prevent and reverse cognitive decline and early stage Alzheimers.
Cognitive Decline is of special interest to me. My grandad, who was the most awesome of fella’s, died from dementia and we watched him slowly lose his mind and faculties until he no longer remembered any of us. As families who have suffered seeing a loved one go this way, you sometimes have to see the funny side as a way of coping. Grandad’s best one was his continued braces and chair incident. He loved wearing braces and when he was sat in his chair at home (before he eventually went into a care home) he would take then down off his shoulders. The braces would get caught on each side of the chair and so when he went to stand up his braces stopped him. It was hilarious!! For a while we thought he was just being his funny self. But sadly it dawned on us all that he couldn’t work it out.
That moment was the start of us as a family realising that this legend of a man who was funny, loyal, strong, sensitive and in fact everything you could ask for, was slipping down the path.
I once visited him before he died. I was living in Sheffield whilst doing my Masters Degree. I came back home and went to visit grandad in his care home in Liverpool. When I arrived he had decided that he needed to escape and was trying to climb over the fence in the back garden. He thought he was in the war again and was escaping capture. He didn’t recognise me. He had gone even though he was still alive.
Years later these memories of grandad got me thinking about whether dementia was part hereditary and maybe I was at risk?
Through work I was tested for genetic SNP’s. The results showed I was Heterozygote (ApoE3/4) for the ApoE4 gene variant (I am going to talk a lot more about this gene in later posts). This result indicated that my risk for Alzheimers is 30% increased ( A Homozygote i.e. ApoE4/4 bumps up your risk to a massive 50%). Not only was my risk increased but what has been clear from all of my gene SNP’s testing is that I am an inflammatory genotype. Not great for cognitive decline! What also worried me is that for the last 10yrs (I’m now 48) i have been having those senior moments, maybe more than I should. I have for some some time not always been able to articulate the words that I am thinking in my head. I also have some struggles with forming clear and concise sentences, so much so that my wife is finishing them off for me. She’s sorting the english construction as we speak.
Recently I met an old University pal of mine, who went on to be a professional rugby player at the highest level. We got on to the conversation of concussion and sport and how this has potentially affected us. I like many, spent at least 10yrs in contact sports where concussions were frequent. I myself had been knocked out several times whilst playing rugby. Worse still, there were many games where I was likely concussed but played on, trying to show that I was not hurt when I was.
So with this background in mind it was natural for me to want to go and understand the science behind cognitive decline. The was to help myself but importantly to help all those other people and patients who have been told that there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimers.
I have started to see patients who, like me, think that they may be suffering with some cognitive decline and/or have a family history that makes them want to start preventative measures. There is a small group of us in London who are working as a collaborative to get things better organised on this side of the pond. This allows us to share notes and experiences which is helpful long term.
The Bredesen protocol is a large and encompassing programme and like many who initially enquire, they realise that it’s “full on” and not about just taking a few supplements. It’s a lifestyle programme that needs commitment from patient and clinician and we currently think a minimum commitment of 6 months on the programme. But it is an exciting time.
When the sun got higher in the sky, the mind cleared and the vista did too.