Q: My great-aunt can tell me long stories about her childhood, but can't remember what day it is. Sometimes she doesn't recognize me when I first see her. Is it Alzheimer's or dementia, and what's the difference anyway? -- Rachel J., Skokie, Ill.
A: Memory loss in old age often comes from Alzheimer's in combination with other forms of dementia, such as multi-infarct dementia -- dementia triggered by mini-strokes -- and dementia associated with neurological diseases such as Parkinson's, or with circulatory problems such as atherosclerosis. Alzheimer's is implicated in 50 percent of all old-age dementia cases.
Most forms of dementia can be postponed or prevented, with smoking cessation and a lifelong commitment to physical activity, healthy food choices and portion sizes, stress management and having friends and a passion in life.
Dementia may be reversed if it's due to nutritional deficiencies, like lack of vitamin B-12, or from infections, interactions between medications or immune disorders.
Also, dementia associated with cardiovascular problems may be kept from progressing if underlying problems such as high blood pressure are corrected.
Alzheimer's may be managed; medications may slow its progression and ease symptoms. Breakthrough treatments may be around the corner!
Diagnostic tools are becoming available. (The Cleveland Clinic Las Vegas' Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has a brain PET scan that can spot tell-tale buildup of amyloid plaques and nerve tangles characteristic of Alzheimer's.) And there's a spinal-fluid check for two proteins (beta amyloid and tau) linked to Alzheimer's (it's not as effective a diagnostic tool as the PET brain scan).
If you find your great aunt is developing Alzheimer's, see if you can enroll her in a research trial. In the meantime, make sure she's avoiding the five food felons (saturated and trans fats, simple sugars, added syrups and any grain but 100 percent whole grains) and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as walnuts and salmon. The spice turmeric (in yellow mustard) also is brain-protective. Make sure she's getting plenty of rest and enough exercise to keep her blood pressure around 115/75.
But right now the most important thing you can do to help your great aunt is to get the proper diagnosis. She's lucky to have you looking out for her.
Q: My husband's 40th birthday is approaching. I want to prepare a special dinner for him. I'm a bit embarrassed to ask, but are there any foods that are aphrodisiacs? -- Marie F., Cherry Hill, N.J.
A: The power to provoke sensual sensations, on the spot, as you eat something (who can forget that dinner scene in "Tom Jones"?) well, that's mostly going on between the ears. Your brain, it turns out, is your biggest sex organ. That means flavors, textures and smells can be provocative. And all kinds of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and micronutrients, are essential for robust sexual function in both men and women. So for your dinner, we suggest you cook up some...
Flavors and smells with zing: Try using citrus fruits such as clementines, oranges and lemons for flavoring. They're proven to stimulate and delight. Lemon chicken, anyone?
A dash of romantic relaxation: Vanilla soothes; chocolate produces joy.
The sexiest spices: Red ginseng (filled with arousing ginsenosides) and saffron (may improve blood pressure and mood) take the prize.
The color of passion: Men find women sexier if they wear red, so why not dress up yourself and food in that color? A tomato-avocado salad with a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and chopped fresh basil will do the trick.
And tell your husband happy birthday from us!
(Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.)