“I do not subscribe to the view that there is no hope,” says James Ellison, M.D., of Swank Center for Memory Care and Geriatric Consultation at ChristianaCare. “I feel like there is considerable hope, and it’s twofold: On one side is prevention, on the other is therapy. Obviously, prevention is optimal.”
Studies show it is possible to eat for brain health, and the best results come from the MIND diet. This was developed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago as a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. MIND is an acronym for Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
It involves eating less red meat and cutting out most processed foods, fried foods and dairy. Instead, meals should focus on fish and poultry, nuts, beans, berries and vegetables (specifically green, leafy vegetables) and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.
This is a sharp contrast to the traditional Western diet, Ellison says, which is “marked by a lot of calories, saturated fat and big portions.”
This causes inflammation, which correlates with cognitive decline.
Wine is recommended on the MIND diet, though limited to one glass per day.
“Relaxation and social engagement are both important for preventing Alzheimer’s,” Ellison adds. “So if you’re the kind of person who takes time to enjoy a glass of wine with friends, it’s possible you’re getting those benefits.”
Take supplements if you are deficient in any vitamins or minerals, but don’t waste your time and money on anything touted as a treatment.
“We don’t have solid evidence that supports the use of any particular treatment for cognitive decline,” Ellison concedes. “But we do know that vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids all have implications for brain health.” (The doctor is clear to point out that these are preventive steps. Once you have cognitive decline, studies have shown this does not make a difference.)
Also important: regular exercise, rest and relaxation, and stress-busting techniques like meditation and yoga.
“It would be nice if there was a magic pill,” Ellison says, “but changing your lifestyle is something people can actually do.”