No one should be surprised to learn that I read a lot about Alzheimer’s. I have a standing Google query that delivers the latest about Alzheimer’s to my inbox each day. And my Facebook feed is chock full of Alzheimer’s information.
Very few of the Facebook articles or posts make me do more than click the “like” icon when I see them. But something about the post this week in which Dr. Mehmet Oz discloses his mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s made me sit up and take notice.
At first it was the realization of the power that Dr. Oz has through his incredibly popular television show and how his announcement could be a real boost to our need for increased public awareness of the disease. After all, in our celebrity-driven culture, there’s nothing more powerful than a famous person announcing a connection to a specific cause or disease.
Also powerful was Dr. Oz’s acknowledgement that he completely missed the signs of his mother’s cognitive decline.
“I want to highlight how important it is to speak up and how easy it is to miss the signs,” he wrote, explaining a few of the many changes in his mother that he and his sister noted and either dismissed as a normal sign of aging or kept to themselves.
Those signs included things like personality changes and overall confusion about time and place. In his post, Oz wrote that his mother, who lives in Turkey, would invite him over for lunch, apparently not realizing or remembering that he was an 11-hour flight away.
For a long time now, I’ve somewhat dismissed the know-the-warning-signs message. After all, there was nothing that could be done. You go to a neurologist, get a diagnosis that turns your entire world upside down and get told to come back in six months or a year.
Beyond two medications that really don’t do much—and come with some truly awful side effects—there hasn’t been a lot that doctors could recommend for people with a cognitive disorder.
Yes, doctors have advised those of us with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to stay active and engaged. Do crosswords or otherwise exercise your brain. Try to reduce stress, which is not the easiest thing in the world when you’ve been diagnosed with a cognitive disease!
But Dr. Oz goes further. He cites Dr. Richard Isaacson, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine, who urges close examination — and control — of biomarkers such as cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. He also urges high intensity interval training (cycling between high efforts and taking short rest periods to allow your heart rate to settle a bit).
I couldn’t agree more with his bottom line: “You too can turn back the clock on cognitive aging. It’s important to know that no matter what your genes say, you can take control of your lifestyle and ultimately lower your risk for Alzheimer’s.”
I also think that applies to those of us who have been diagnosed with a cognitive disorder. We can’t undo the damage of the past and we won’t “cure” ourselves. But I believe in my heart — and apparently science agrees — that the best thing we can do for ourselves is carefully monitor our biomarkers and exercise, exercise, exercise.
I’ve written previously about my exercise and weight loss journey. (Running on a parallel track with my Alzheimer’s journey.) I’ve seen some early success in weight loss: I am down 15 pounds from my most recent high and hope to have additional success to report soon.
Here’s an idea…Join with me in a personal health quest. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can work together to keep our Alzheimer’s monsters in their cages!
Phil Gutis is a former New York Times reporter and civil liberties and environmental advocate who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2016.