As we get older, we become more sensitive to forgetfulness. Blanking out on a name at twenty-five years old does not instill the same inner reaction as it does at fifty-five years old, namely, is this the beginning of some form of dementia? These days, I work with a number of older folks and hear the conversations about the mental, physical, and emotional changes that occur as we age. Some changes are comforting, some not, and some can be downright scary.
In Outsmarting Alzheimer’s: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk, neuroscientist Kenneth Kosik, MD, with the help of Alisa Bowman, has put together a manual to pinpoint whether your “senior moments” are normal or potentially something else. He also gives life-style prescriptions based on scientific research that he believes can reduce the risk of dementia.
Outsmarting Alzheimer’s is divided into three parts. Part 1 gives an overview of dementia and discusses how our brains work. In this section, Kosik shows that forgetting isn’t always a symptom of Alzheimer’s and he reassures the reader that there are things we can do things to help keep our brains functioning at a high level. The discussion brought back a memory for me from a developmental psychology class I took a few decades ago in which we learned about pre-death drop — that time in life when our bodies and minds start to deteriorate. We were taught this inevitable decline started at 40! Happily, this fatalistic decline has been disproven. Kosik assures us that our brains can make new connections throughout our lives.
The first section also includes a self-assessment that asks about your family history, social connections, education level, stress levels, health, and lifestyle habits. Once completed, you get a lifestyle score and an Alzheimer’s risk score.
Part 2 provides a list of 80 lifestyle prescriptions to lessen your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and is grouped using six keys called smarts: 1) Social smarts, 2) Meal smarts, 3) Aerobic smarts, 4) Resilience smarts, 5) Train-Your-Brain smarts, and 6) Sleep smarts. Each smart key has a list of to-dos for that topic, for which Kosik gives research backing the prescriptions and details on how to actually fulfill them. For example, prescription three under Meal smarts is to “eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.” In this case, Kosik suggests choosing whole fruits and vegetables rather than processed ones, eating a variety, and using vegetables to transform dishes that would not be so healthy otherwise, such as adding spinach to macaroni and cheese.
I found it particularly useful that throughout the book, there are sections on “advice for caregivers.” I know of situations in which caregivers died before their loved ones, probably due to the stress and sacrifice of giving care at the expense of self-care. The smart prescriptions are not only for those looking to prevent or mitigate Alzheimer’s, but also for those caring for their loved ones with the illness.
The book also looks at myths and popular ideas about Alzheimer’s. This includes topics such as the use of aluminum foil versus cling wrap. According to the author, “the link between dietary aluminum and Alzheimer’s has been thoroughly repudiated.” However, the use of BPA and its replacement, BPS, in plastics are another story. Kosik recommends taking the “boil in a bag” and ‘steam in a bag” foods out of the bag to cook them, and even avoiding drinking from plastic bottles left in hot cars or sunlight.
Part 3 is a three-week plan that gives a blue print on how to put all these prescriptions into play in your life. It includes meal plans, exercise plans, and even planning and hosting a social event. It is Kosik’s goal to help make these changes easy and fun, and he does a good job. There is flexibility, and while the approach is comprehensive, it is not exhaustive. You can come up with prescriptions of your own to add into the mix. For instance, as a more introverted person, I would need to find some way other than planning a dinner party for the Social Smarts prescription.
The latter part of the book is a wealth of information to help you put the plan into play. There are many recipes, brain games, exercises, and a variety of resources. For instance, Kosik recommends vibrating shoes to improve balance. I have added this to the list of resources to give to folks I come across in the counseling practice and in taiji classes who have balance problems.
I also appreciated the glossary at the end, which I think is very useful for books that include medical terms, the extensive list of studies cited in the work (over 400), the thorough index, and the helpful subject cross references to other sections.
Overall, I found Outsmarting Alzheimer’s to be an excellent resource. Kosik does a nice job of persuasion for the healthy choices he advocates. Too often, choices that would improve health and reduce health care costs through prevention are rejected in a bid to prove autonomy. The nice thing about the prescriptions Kosik recommends is that you are given the evidence and ways to make a positive change, and then it is up to you to follow through.
Outsmarting Alzheimer’s: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk
The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., December 2015
Hardcover, 320 Pages