Keeping mind, body active helps curb onset of Alzheimer’s

Utilizing what he calls a brain tune-up plan involving nutrition, exercise and creative activities, as well as engaging in acts of kindness and service, will help reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementia, a visiting doctor says. However, start early, says director of the Alzheimer’s Institute.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

Before the age of 65, the incidents of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, are one in 1,000. At 65, it jumps to one in 20, by 80, to one in five, and by 85, one in two people are affected with the disease, said Dr. Arnold Bresky, in a presentation at the Malibu’s Senior Citizen’s Club last Friday.

“Do I have your attention now?” he asked the audience.

Bresky for decades has used holistic/mind-body medicine to bring life into the world as an obstetrician/gynecologist, but for the past 12 years he has worked as a “preventative gerontologist,” trying to make life better for people in their older years. Bresky serves as the director of a holistic medical center in Camarillo Springs, in addition to treating patients at nursing homes and privately throughout the area, teaching people “how to age gracefully.”

“It’s not about how long you live, but how well you live,” Bresky told the audience at the Point Dume Club, after arriving from the Los Angeles City Council chambers, where he received a proclamation from the council recognizing his work. A display of artwork by some of Bresky’s Alzheimer’s patients, who previously had no art training, hangs on the third floor of the building.

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In Alzheimer’s disease, aging cells begin to die and connections at key points called synapses begin to fail, contributing to short-term memory loss, poor judgment and communication skills, and, in the disease’s early stages, general confusion, and later, the inability to remember how to provide oneself with the most basic care.

Currently, 5.3 million people in the United States are living with the disease, a number that is expected to hit 7.7 million by 2030, when baby boomers reach their golden years, and then triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving Alzheimer’s research and treatment. To date, roughly the disease affects 147,000 people in the County of Los Angeles, and it is the seventh leading cause of death nationwide.

While there are some medications on the market that help slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s, they are not a cure and do not work for almost half the patients who take them. People with high blood pressure, diabetes and who are extremely overweight, or suffer from metabolic syndrome, are substantially more at risk for the disease.

“Memory is life. Without it you have no past and no context for the present, and without a present you have no way to plan for the future,” Bresky said. “If you don’t protect your memory, you will lose it.”

Bresky’s holistic approach to mitigating the onset of cognitive decline, which he calls his “Brain Tune Up 9 Point System,” can improve brain agility and regrow brain cells and delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s by five years, he said.

The plan calls for eating a Mediterranean diet rich in antioxidant whole foods and staying hydrated, getting daily exercise and sufficient sleep, participating in creative activities like art and music, in addition to “music therapy,” taking time for prayer, meditation and reflection, and engaging in acts of kindness and service.

These points, Bresky said, will help keep the mind, body and soul active, which will keep the brain healthy and curb onset of the disease.

In addition to improving quality of life for seniors, particularly those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there is also a long-lasting fiscal impact if more seniors adhere to his approach, he added.

Seniors aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease cost Medicare and Medicaid three times as much in payments, hospital stays and medication costs as other patients. With the first baby boomers hitting 65 in the next few years, the financial strain on Medicare will be enormous, and could bankrupt the system, Bresky said. (Medicare trustees on Tuesday announced that Medicare is on the brink of insolvency, and could run out of money in eight years.)

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2005, seniors with Alzheimer’s cost Medicare $148 billion, a number that has continued to rise each year and will continue to rise exponentially with the rapidly increasing numbers of elderly who are living longer than ever before, which will likely create a demand for an additional 3.5 million formally trained health care providers for the disease by 2030.

Due to national efforts for reform of the U.S. health care system, Bresky is currently in the process of approaching the federal government with a plan to prevent and delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease utilizing his nine point system, and focusing on cognitive training and behavior modification.

Gilbert Rishton is the director of the California State University Channel Islands Alzheimer’s Institute, where he is working on developing drugs to reduce brain cell degeneration and grow new cells.

“Everyone is looking for a correlation between lifestyle activities and the disease but we don’t have a correlation yet,” Rishton said.

“[While] good long-term nutrition is not something that can reverse cognitive decline, it is currently our best bet of slowing it down,” he said of Bresky’s plan. “Targeting the elderly is a good idea, but you really have to start targeting people in [their] 40s and 50s.

Leonard Zahn, a member of the senior club said, even though he still has all his “marbles,” he enjoyed the presentation and thought Bresky gave good advice.

“I just wish it came 20 years earlier,” he said.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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