Five weeks after Mom died, I decided to take stock of my own health. I no longer had the distraction or excuse of having to “take care of Mom.” Since we had moved to Tacoma, I was determined to find a doctor I liked, closer to our new place. On the recommendation of a friend who is a naturopath, I found a nurse practitioner who embraces holistic health and does not roll her eyes when asked about supplements or other non-traditional approaches to health.

I made an appointment for an annual exam, discovering with surprise that my last one was five years ago!  At the end of an otherwise unremarkable exam with no surprises, Lydia, the ARNP asked me if I wanted to be referred to a neurologist. “Why?” I blurted out, thinking I was perfectly healthy.  “Your Mom just died of Alzheimer’s,” she explained calmly. “Do you want to get genetic testing to see if you have the marker for Alzheimer’s?” I realized that I had been contemplating that very question for years but had rarely expressed it out loud to anyone. While my health is generally excellent, I worry irrationally every time I forget a name; misspell a word; forget if I’ve already used the conditioner in the shower; or find myself in a room wondering why I entered. I know these are not unusual occurrences for other people my age but they cause me to panic, none-the-less.

For the past two decades, I’ve made a conscious attempt to live positively, focusing on what I want rather than what I don’t want, believing to my core the adage, “what you think about, you bring about.”  When Mom died though, I caught myself thinking, “am I next?” My mom grew up in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania; she struggled with bouts of depression and the stress of being a single mom. Our lives have taken decidedly different paths but are those differences enough to prevent me from developing Alzheimer’s?  Looking back with perfect perspective, I can see that Mom started showing signs of dementia in her 60’s even though she wasn’t diagnosed till age 71. With my 60th birthday looming this fall, I’ve found it difficult to stay positive and push down the fear.

At the same time, I’m not sure I want to know if I have the gene. What kind of pressure and dread would I live with if I knew what was brewing in my mind? Could I be disciplined enough to live my life fully and joyfully for whatever number of years I have left before I become dependent on someone else for care?  Every time I asked myself that question, I heard my inner voice say, “No. Better not to know.”

Lydia then asked if I had heard of Dr. Bredesen and his protocol for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s through nutrition, supplements and lifestyle. She recommended I get his book, End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline.   I love a health care practitioner who recommends a book instead of a drug!!

Thanks to Amazon Prime, I had my own copy the next day and started reading it immediately.  Dr. Bredesen’s research-based protocol works to reduce inflammation; improve nutrition; eliminate toxins and manage your relationship with glucose. He started working with patients in 2012 but did not publish his outcomes until 2014 so they are not widely known yet.  His initial research showed 9 out of 10 of his patients reversing cognitive decline by following his program.

He and his team determined that Alzheimer’s is not a single disease even though the symptoms often make it look like it is.  In his book he states, “We discovered that there are three subtypes of Alzheimer’s. Our research on the different biochemical profiles of people with Alzheimer’s has made it clear that these three readily distinguishable subtypes are each driven by different biochemical processes. Each one requires a different treatment.”

For the first time, ever, I have a good reason to consider genetic testing. In the past, I felt like even if I did know I had the gene, there was no known prevention or cure so I would just have to wait for the disease to show its hand. Why know in advance?  With Dr. Bredesen’s protocol though, it is important to know whether you have the ApoE4 genetic risk factor or something else in order to maximize the effectiveness of the protocol. Knowing what type of Alzheimer’s you have helps you personalize the treatment. Dr. Bredesen has shown that there is not only the potential to prevent Alzheimer’s, but to reverse cognitive decline that has already occurred.  He has effectively given all of us with family history of Alzheimer’s a big dose of hope!

In the past my Plan B involved a bright red, very deadly, polka dotted mushroom in northern Spain that could eliminate any need for long-term care just twenty minutes after ingestion. All of a sudden, I don’t have to weigh long term care insurance vs a swift end to my life. Maybe there is another choice: maybe there is a protocol that can prevent this unfortunate inheritance from manifesting.

My ARNP has agreed to help me work with the protocol, called ReCode (for reversal of cognitive decline) that is explained in Dr. Bredesen’s book. I’ve already begun changing my diet and implementing intermittent fasting to reduce any inflammation. This protocol is extensive and somewhat complex. I miss eating breakfast! But I am motivated to do whatever I need to do to keep from experiencing the same decline I observed in my Mom, my uncle and my maternal grandfather. 

Good-bye sugar, bread, crackers, tuna, grains, pizza and ice cream. No more homemade granola for breakfast. No toast, even if it’s gluten-free. No rice, even if it’s brown. No pineapple or mango although I can still eat blueberries and strawberries occasionally. I’ve been a gluten-free, pescatarian (vegetarian who eats fish) for years so I consider myself disciplined. This is a new level of commitment though. After all, I’m married to a chef who loves to cook with butter, cream and sherry! He spends hours creating mouthwatering meals that I’ve boasted in the past that “I could die for.” Now I literally have to choose between some of those delectable meals and keeping my mind sharp! After some long discussions, Rocky is on board and willing to support me following these guidelines. Especially, after I shared my new mantra with him: “I’d rather give up (sugar, pizza, bread, granola etc.), than have you wipe my butt.” Put that way, he was suddenly more agreeable.

So what can I eat?   Jicama! Yes, that strange looking brown skinned root vegetable that is challenging to peel. Did you know it has a satisfying crunch and is mildly sweet (especially after you have been deprived of sugar for two weeks)?  I can also eat mushrooms, greens (kale, spinach, chard, etc.), eggs, salmon, sardines, nuts, sweet potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. These are all things I love already.  I now have a wild mushroom guy at the farmer’s market who is introducing me to new delicious mushrooms that I hadn’t tried before like lion’s mane. These are the safe, sauté-friendly mushrooms, not the poisonous variety I had considered as my exit-strategy before.

And I can still have a glass of wine and a square of organic 70% dark chocolate every once in a while. What more do I need?  For the first time in 15 years I have hope, and that is better than chocolate and far better than fear! I will give up Rocky’s more decadent meals for the chance to watch my future grandchildren grow up and be a positive influence in their lives. I will stop eating grains if it means I can continue to read, write, walk my dog and bathe myself. I’ve had my last fresh tuna if it means I can remain a loving, capable partner to my husband and not have to rely on him or worse, my children, to be my caregiver.

At this point, Dr. Bredesen’s book and I are just starting our love-fest . I feel a bit gushy and overly enthusiastic as though I’m talking about a new boyfriend. Will this path help me live a life with all of my faculties?  Or will I get to my 70’s, having deprived myself of some of my favorite foods, only to discover I’m naked and howling at the moon? Like any new love affair, I’m full of hope and belief that life might just be a little sweeter if I stick with this plan. I will also learn to love jicama!