Living with MCI: What one Richland man is doing to fight against the diagnosis

When you’re in your 60s, you expect to live your life to the fullest. But what if you learn that you were diagnosed with a stage of Alzheimer’s disease?

David Brown worked as an engineer when he started having unusual issues in March 2012.

“The first thing that I experienced was problems with balance from dizziness,” Brown said.

He went to a Tri-Cities neurologist and nothing was found on his MRI. Brown’s symptoms started to worsen. That’s when he went back and was given a series of tests.

“During the test, I was unable to memorize a list of three single syllable words,” Brown said. “He then gave me a referral to Harborview in Seattle.”

Once there, he was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment at the age of 65 in May 2015. It’s a stage of Alzheimer’s that comes before dementia. It shrinks the memory portion of your brain, the hippocampus. The disease also impacts the lateral ventricles.

“The reaction to being scared was what can we do about this,” Brown said. “What is out there? Because you know, I knew nothing about it and I was clueless.”

He began to do hours and hours of research. Brown joined a gym in December 2015, which researchers say can help brain activity.

“Some studies show physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise does boost the size of the hippocampus, which brain structure is very important for memory and learning,” said Dr. Hui Juan Zhang, neurologist at Kadlec Medical Center. “Exercise is very important. Dietary change, eating healthy, social activity, social interaction and brain cognitive functions like learning.”

Brown consistently went to the gym every day for about 35 minutes. His workout — the treadmill.

“To me, it’s really important to get here every day and do this,” Brown said.

He also started to eat healthier, do morning meditation and much more. Brown returned to Harborview for more MRIs since he started working out. In June 2017, neurologists conclude “stable performance compared to previous testing.”

“These are the ingredients that working together, I believe have produced the results that I’ve had and it’s just — I just cannot believe just how much better I feel today than I felt in 2015, 2016,” Brown said.

His brain functions began to improve. In February 2018, he wrote a book called Beating the Dementia Monster. It describes his experience with the diagnosis and his day-to-day routine.

In June 2018, Brown went back to Harborview for annual cognitive testing. His doctors said they saw some improvements over 2017 and his scores have not declined significantly since 2015. He improved in five areas of the test.

“What I hope is that I can squeeze out that extra decade out of my life and I can keep this kind of stuff up,” Brown said. “This is the window in time when you can actually do something about it — if you’re willing to put in the effort.”

Neurologists say every patient is different.

“MCI patients can remain stable, but unfortunately some patients over the years can develop into dementia,” Zhang said. “You can actually function quite well because without interference of the daily activity for living, but they do subjectively or objectively by family members do have a little bit more memory difficulty.”

Brown continues to advocate for Alzheimer’s research and write in a person blog about his experiences.

“There’s hope and there are things you can do to, if nothing else, slow it down,” Brown said.

Kadlec has a neurological resource center library at their Healthplex. It offers resources for brain health, nutrition and support group information. Those resources are free. Click here for more information.

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