'I have Alzheimer's - I am staving off the deadly disease through these simple lifestyle changes'

Composite image of person walking, eating a plant-based meal and Alzheimer's patient

An Alzheimer's patient claims to have reversed her symptoms by adopting a plant-based diet and doing regular exercise

Getty Images/CNN/YouTube
Adam Chapman

By Adam Chapman

Published: 21/05/2024

- 10:11

Updated: 21/05/2024

- 10:23

Cici Zerbe claims to have reversed her Alzheimer's disease symptoms five years on from her devastating diagnosis

An Alzheimer's patient claims to have reversed her symptoms by making strict and simple lifestyle changes.

Her astonishing turnaround, which she credits to following a plant-based diet, doing regular exercise, group support, yoga and meditation, is the subject of a new CNN documentary, “The Last Alzheimer’s Patient”.

In the documentary, CNN chief medical correspondent Doctor Sanjay Gupta catches up with Zerbe five years on from her diagnosis.

The dementia patient says her symptoms have been reversed after participating in Doctor Dean Ornish’s clinical trial on the effects of intensive lifestyle changes on the progression of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia due to Alzheimer’s Disease.

\u200bCici Zerbe

Cici goes out for a walk every morning


Zerbe feels "much better" than she did five years ago, she tells Doctor Gupta.

When pressed on the specific lifestyle decisions that have helped "reverse" her Alzheimer's symptoms, Zerbe credits meditation, diet, and exercise.

"My choice of a meal before this was breaded veal cutlet - I haven't had one in five years," she told the CNN correspondent.

Her husband, John, is amazed at his wife's U-turn: "I figured by this time she'd be in a home."

The peer-reviewed study, set to be published in June 2024 in 'Alzheimer's Research & Therapy,' examines the relationship between intensive lifestyle changes and the risk of mild cognitive impairment or early dementia due to Alzheimer's Disease.

What the research says 

There is no known way to prevent or cure dementia but a growing body of evidence suggests can both reduce the risk and slow down its onset by implementing healthy lifestyle changes.

Researchers have identified five habits that provide cognitive benefits, even in people showing early signs of dementia.

For the study, published in the journal JAMA Neurology, autopsies were performed on 586 people living in retirement communities, senior housing and individual residences in the Chicago area who had participated in the Rush Memory and Aging Project between 1997 and 2022.

The participants, who lived to an average age of 91, underwent regular cognitive and physical testing and filled out annual questionnaires on their lifestyles for over two decades before they died.

People in the study were categorised as living a low-risk or healthy lifestyle if they scored top marks in five different categories: they did not smoke; they did moderate to vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week; they kept their alcohol consumption to about one drink a day for women and two for men; and they regularly stimulated their brain by reading, visiting museums, and playing games like cards, checkers, crosswords or puzzles.

Person holding bowl of leafy greens and cod liver

MIND diet slows the pace of ageing, study suggests

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The fifth category measured how well they followed the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND diet).

The MIND diet combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, emphasising plant-based foods (especially berries and leafy greens) and limited consumption of animal products and saturated fats. The researchers found that a higher scoring, which indicated a healthier lifestyle, was linked to better cognitive function, regardless of whether the participants had brain pathologies like Alzheimer’s disease.

Higher lifestyle scores were also associated with lower levels of the beta-amyloid plaque, a protein that accumulates in the brain in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers found the following five habits staved off the deadly disease:

  • Not smoking
  • Staying active
  • Cutting down or avoiding alcohol
  • Stimulating the brain
  • Eating well

The observational nature of the study makes it impossible to prove a direct cause and effect but it adds to an encouraging body of literature suggesting that lifestyle decisions can make a difference.

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