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‘More Like Her Old Self’: Family’s ‘Brain-Boosting’ Diet to Help Beat Dementia Wins Praise From Alzheimer’s Society

‘More Like Her Old Self’: Family’s ‘Brain-Boosting’ Diet to Help Beat Dementia Wins Praise From Alzheimer’s Society

A son and his mum have been praised by Alzheimer’s Society after devising a ‘brain-boosting’ diet to help her beat the disease.

We know there are no guarantees and it’s not a magic formula, but it has made a definite difference to my mum and could help lots of other people too.

Sylvia Hatzer, 82, was diagnosed in 2016 following months of memory problems she had attributed to old age.

At one stage she became so confused that she had to be kept in hospital for her own safety, not recognising familiar surroundings or friends and family including Mark, her son.

But thanks to a carefully researched programme of healthy eating and cognitive exercises coupled with her regular medication, the pair say they have seen significant improvements and doctors treating her agree. 

Sylvia and Mark, 50, who worked closely with her carers, treating team and Alzheimer’s Society to develop the plan, have now been invited to the Queen’s Garden Party this summer in recognition of Sylvia’s efforts which will give hope to thousands of others affected by dementia and their families.  

Mark, who has lived with his mum since the death of his father Ken and older brother, Brent, said her diagnosis came as a devastating blow to them both.

“I was still quite young when my dad and brother died and it just left the two of us so we’ve always been close, but overnight we went from being a happy family to a family in crisis,” he said. 

“Fortunately mum responded well to the medication, but we were conscious that it would only slow the Alzheimer’s down, it was a temporary fix. It felt like we were trapped by an incoming tide and there was no way out.

“We had been given an advisor through Alzheimer’s Society who helped us a lot and we decided to do some research to see if there was any merit in trying alternative treatments.

“If you look at other countries, some have much lower levels of dementia than in the UK and a lot of that’s down to diet. We are living to the same age in this country but we are not necessarily living healthier.”

Mark and Sylvia set about devising a new diet for her to try, ditching unhealthy processed food full of fat and sugar for fresh, brain-nourishing ingredients such as blueberries, walnuts, sweet potatoes and leafy green vegetables.   

Supported by carers who look after his mum while he works, the lawyer also made sure she continued to socialise and introduced more stimulating activities such as jigsaws, crosswords, reading, listening to music and gentle exercise.

Small changes made a big difference – with Mark noticing improvements after just a couple of months.

“We noticed she was more alert, more engaged, basically more like her old self,” he said.

“Her cognitive tests were improving, as well as her general wellbeing, and the neurologist, the GP, these men of science and medicine had to agree that there had been an improvement.

“This time last year I was being called out to the hospital because she didn’t know where she was or who I was, but now she remembers names, places where she has been, what she has done, she is not losing things like before.  

“We know there are no guarantees and it’s not a magic formula, but it has made a definite difference to my mum and could help lots of other people too.”

Mark, from Prestwich, said they were both overwhelmed by the invitation to Buckingham Palace and are now keen to share their ideas with as many people as possible. He also praised colleagues at Slater and Gordon for their support – which has included rolling out new ‘brain-boosting’ menus in the Manchester law firm’s staff canteen.

“So many people have got a friend or relative who has been affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia and you don’t realise how much support there is out there,” he added.

“I did this for my mum - she has got the condition and she has done all the hard work - but if what we’ve achieved can benefit other people as well then that’s great, it’s a win-win.”

To read more of Mark and Sylvia’s story or for further information about Alzheimer’s Society, visit https://blog.alzheimers.org.uk/personal-stories/marks-story/

Foods for living well with Alzheimer’s and dementia

Fish such as salmon or mackerel and other foods rich in Omega 3 oil or capsules if preferred, taken 2-3 times a day

Wholegrains, especially oats

Wholemeal bread

Beans

Sweet potatoes, carrots and swede

Leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach  

Mushrooms, especially brown varieties

Nuts, especially brazils and walnuts

Berries, especially blueberries, blackberries and strawberries and preferably fresh, not frozen

Linseeds

Sunflower seeds

Herbs and spices

Tea, especially herbal and green teas, taken without sugar and with low-fat or no milk

Coffee

Good quality dark chocolate (with a cocoa content of 70 per cent or more)