Three years ago, Mark Hatzer started noticing his 82-year-old mother Sylvia’s forgetfulness. Soon, it became so severe, he was forced to hospitalize her for her own safety.
She’d gotten to the point where she did not recognize her son, and on one occasion even accused the nurses caring for her of kidnapping her.
“When my mum was in hospital she thought it was a hotel — but the worst one she had ever been in,” Mark explained. “She didn’t recognize me and phoned the police as she thought she’d been kidnapped.”
Having lost his father to a heart attack in 1987, his mother’s battle with dementia left him feeling as though he’d lost both of his parents.
“We were a double act that went everywhere together,” he said. “I despaired and never felt so alone as I had no other family to turn to. Overnight we went from a happy family to one in crisis.”
But instead of Sylvia taking prescription medication, Mark worked with her to come up with a diet and recipes to help combat the rapid onset of dementia.
After plenty of research, the duo learned that in many Mediterranean countries, dementia is nearly unheard due to their diet. So the diet they created was largely based off of the eating habits of those countries.
The foods in the diet are made up of plenty of “brain-boosting” foods, two among them being walnuts and blueberries.
“Everyone knows about fish but there is also blueberries, strawberries, Brazil nuts and walnuts — these are apparently shaped like a brain to give us a sign that they are good for the brain,” Mark explained.
Sylvia also began eating other foods like broccoli, oats, sweet potatoes, green tea, and even dark chocolate.
And while nothing happened overnight, Sylvia miraculously began to regain pieces of her memory.
“It wasn’t an overnight miracle but after a couple of months she began remembering things like birthdays and was becoming her old self again, more alert, more engaged,” he explained.
By incorporating exercise, both for the brain and the body, as well as social interaction, Sylvia’s memory is still on the upswing.
“People think that once you get a diagnosis your life is at an end,” Mark said. “You will have good and bad days but it doesn’t have to be the end.”
The Alzheimer’s Society has since endorsed Mark and Sylvia’s method, even sharing her diet, recipes, and exercises on their blog.
“It’s fantastic that Sylvia along with her son Mark have taken action to create a personal plan that works well for her dementia diagnosis,” said Sue Clarke from the Alzheimer’s Society.
“There is currently no cure or way of preventing the progression of the condition, but taking regular gentle exercise, eating a healthy diet and doing cognitive exercises can help someone with dementia manage their condition more effectively.”
And to honor Sylvia for her efforts to help others affected by dementia, she has been invited to one of Queen Elizabeth’s famed garden parties this summer.
“For my mum, knowing that she has helped other people, has really helped her,” Mark said.
“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.”