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HEALTH REPORT - East Meets West to Treat Alzheimer's Patients

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One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease. (File Photo)
One hemisphere of a healthy brain (L) is pictured next to one hemisphere of a brain of a person suffering from Alzheimer disease. (File Photo)

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

November is Alzheimer's Awareness Month in the United States. Alzheimer's is a frightening disease. It is frightening not only for those who suffer from memory loss, but also for their loved ones.

But researchers in California say a new way of treating Alzheimer's disease is showing promise for reversing some of that memory loss. The new treatment combines western medicine with eastern philosophy – ideas rooted in Asian religions.

"I could not remember conversations that I had had with my kids and my husband. I started having to refer to my calendar all the time."

This 55-year-old woman has suffered from progressive memory loss connected with early Alzheimer's. She is still working as a lawyer, but does not want her name publicized.

The woman is one of 10 patients who received a new treatment for memory loss at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"I now have much more confidence in my work and not afraid that I will forget something. I don't have to rely on my lists. I don't have to write everything down."

Holocaust survivor Betty Stein, 92, (R) is helped by coach Irina Jestkova as she plays ping pong at a program for people with Alzheimer's and dementia at the Arthur Gilbert Table Tennis Center in Los Angeles, California. (June 2011)
Holocaust survivor Betty Stein, 92, (R) is helped by coach Irina Jestkova as she plays ping pong at a program for people with Alzheimer's and dementia at the Arthur Gilbert Table Tennis Center in Los Angeles, California. (June 2011)

Dr. Dale Bredesen is with the Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research at UCLA. He says nine of 10 patients suffering from either Alzheimer's or other disorders of the brain noted improvements in their memory.

Using Eastern philosophy seems to help

He says the new therapy treats the whole patient, not just parts of the patient. This is called holistic care.

Dr. Bredesen says the traditional use of only one treatment, what he calls "monotheraphy," just did not work with many patients.

"They have either taken a single drug, monotherapy, to try with Alzheimer's and that has been a failure repeatedly, or they have tried without any sort of background simply saying, 'Okay, try exercise, try changing your diet,' these sorts of things, and there has not been any way to understand how these things contribute to the disease."

Dr. Bredesen says there is a constant balance of the brain remembering and forgetting. He says many things, including a person's lifestyle, can create an imbalance in brain activity. And this imbalance can lead to memory loss.

"We identified 36 different parts of this network that contribute to the imbalance. So when you are chronically on the wrong side of that balance, you are in fact pulling apart the connections instead of making them. Then, in the long run, that can lead to Alzheimer's disease."

The thirty-six different parts or elements include a person's diet, exercise and sleep. Dr. Bredesen creates an individualized treatment for each patient. He does this by taking images of their brain, testing their blood and asking many questions about their daily life.

Treatments include lifestyle changes and even medicines or vitamin supplements. He describes this new therapy as combining western understanding of the human body with the eastern method of looking at the whole patient.

Lifestyle changes can help

As for lifestyle changes, subjects were told to avoid carbohydrates, like bread and pasta. They also avoided processed foods and gluten, a protein found in wheat. Researchers told subjects to eat more fish and to take vitamin B12, D3 and fish oil. They also practiced yoga, sat quietly for 20 minutes two times each day and they slept more.

Gluten-free products on store shelf.
Gluten-free products on store shelf.

"What we're using is a combination that brings these two together to create a new kind of physician that is doing a different kind of medicine who understands the basics of molecular genetics, but also understands the need to bring things together in a network fashion."

Dr. Bredesen says for the nine patients whose memory improved, it usually happened within three to six months. He says the 10th patient was too far along in the disease for any improvement to be observed.

The UCLA center is now working with 30 additional patients as it moves to expand its research. The researchers say they followed some patients up to two and a half years and the memory improvements remained.

I'm Anna Matteo.

*This report was based on a story from VOA's Elizabeth Lee in Los Angeles. Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. The editor was George Grow.

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Words in this Story

reverse – v. to cause something, such as a process to stop or return to an earlier state

holistic – adj. relating to or concerned with complete systems rather than with individual parts

supplement – n. a product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients that are intended to supplement one's diet and are not considered food

carbohydrate – n. any one of various substances found in certain foods that provide your body with heat and energy and are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen

gluten – n. a substance in wheat and flour that holds dough together

processed foods – compound noun foods that are packaged in boxes, cans or bags

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