All the older women in my family – my mother, her mother and both her sisters – suffered from dementia in their last years. They were all in their 80s and 90s before the symptoms showed, but it is a cruel illness however long and good your life has been.

So, as a sixty-year-old with a lot of dementia in my family, it’s great to hear of any progress in the battle to fight this horrible disease which affects 30 million people globally and is expected to rise to 160 million by 2050.

Drugs take a long time to develop and dementia is a complex nut to crack as it’s now thought to have a variety of causes. So, while we wait and hope for a magic pill to stem the tide, some recent research showing that lifestyle changes can reverse cognitive decline feels like a breakthrough. Even better, if the research is correct, then making the changes used by the researchers could prevent the brain changes that bring about serious problems later.

Admittedly, the trail was small: the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and Buck Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California put ten patients exhibiting memory loss due to Alzheimer’s or dementia on a holistic therapeutic programme. After 3-6 months nine of them showed significant improvements in memory – and astonishingly, six of the nine were able to return to work.

The programme was built around four things: optimising diet, getting plenty of exercise, having 8 hours sleep a night and reducing stress. Patients taking part in the research also had their diet supplemented with vitamins and minerals and were screened for heavy metal toxicity but, for the process of prevention, these four ingredients – sleep, exercise, stress reduction and stress management – seem like a good place to start.

This is how it was done

Sleep: patients were told to get 7-8 hours sleep which is needed to repair the body and restore the mind. Researchers included a 12-hour food fast at night, with supper being eaten three hours before bedtime, to reduce insulin levels.

Diet: patients were put on plant-based diets, eliminating carbohydrates, gluten and processed food. They ate non-farmed fish and avoided ‘inflammatory’ foods like red meat, coffee, alcohol and dairy.

Stress: patients did stress busting techniques comprising a daily meditation or mindfulness practice plus yoga classes.

Exercise: optimum exercise involved fast walking, swimming or cycling for 30-60 minutes a day, four to six days a week.

As a blueprint for a healthy life it’s all good common sense and – aside from some dietary challenges – pretty straightforward to put into place. It’s also cheaper than taking a pill and has far fewer side effects. According to Dale Bredesen, who authored the research, it is noteworthy that the major side effect of this therapeutic system is improved health and optimal BMI (body mass index).

I think I can live with that.

To read Dale Bredesen’s reasearch visit

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