Overcoming Alzheimer's: Letting Nature Fight Back

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In the classic movie It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, joyfully re-enters the real world after his nightmare vision of a world without him. Seeing the town sign, he shouts with glee, "Hello, Bedford Falls!"

Bill and Nita Scoggan also love their friendly town -- not any cinematic Bedford Falls -- but the real Bedford, Ind., hub of Lawrence County and known as "the limestone capital of the world."

The couple does think it's a wonderful life now, but like Stewart's character, Bill Scoggan was not himself. Eleven years ago, he began showing serious signs of dementia.

Slight, But Noticeable Changes

The first hint had come years earlier when Scoggan worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Washington, D.C., area. He was responsible around the clock supervising 125 employees.

"It was awful tough getting up in front of those people sometimes," Scoggan recalled. "I'd forget what I was really up there for."

Forgetfulness is one of the early signs of Alzheimer's disease. The kind of stress Scoggan was under is known to contribute to Alzheimer's.

He soon retired from his stressful job. However, the couple stayed active in Christian ministry, even leading Bible studies at the Pentagon and White House.

Then Scoggan stopped wanting to be active.

"I'd say, 'Honey, let's do so and so, let's go somewhere with so and so,'" Nita Scoggan said. "[And he'd say], 'Oh I don't feel like doing it, let's do it another time.'"

A Slow Decline

As time went on, Scoggan also realized something was wrong. He says there are a thousand excuses to be in denial.

"But as it progresses more and more and more and you start realizing, 'Hey, I've got a problem,'" he said.

Doctors couldn't find anything wrong. As Scoggan's condition worsened, his wife decided to move him back to his native Indiana.

By that time, Scoggan could no longer drive or even remember his home town. Nita Scoggan said he hardly had an inkling of where they were going.

"I just kept saying we were going to Indiana, everything's going to be wonderful," she said. "He was scared because he really didn't know what was going on and he cried. Of course that would just break my heart."

Doctors finally categorized Scoggan's condition as Alzheimer's rather than some other form of dementia. They had eliminated the other possibilities.

Scoggan was placed on the drug Aricept, one brand of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors commonly given to Alzheimer's patients. Nita Scoggan told the doctor it wasn't working.

Like his other physicians, Scoggan's long-term dentist witnessed his mental decline. Dr. Lawrence Howell saw a replication of the ravages his own mother with Alzheimer's had faced.

"It was becoming more and more difficult for him to sit in the chair and process what we were talking about, the work that needed to be done," Howell said.

Scoggan also lost all interest in activities he once enjoyed like hunting, gardening, and even eating. He began spending most of his time in bed.

Searching for Help

Nita Scoggan prayed desperately for a way to help her husband. Once a crack researcher at the Pentagon, she put those skills to work digging for information on what's good for the brain.

First, that led her to put Scoggan on a low-carbohydrate diet devoid of potatoes, corn, bread and pasta. Her research -- coinciding with the opinion of many leading brain experts -- led her to conclude that starchy carbs make the brain sluggish.

"His favorite foods that I've been trying to fix for him all these years we've been married is making him worse," she said.

In the process Mrs. Scoggan also found a nutrient produced in the body called phosphatidylserine, or PS. The body makes less and less of this fat with age, but PS is in health food stores for about a dollar a capsule.

Phosphatidylserine boosts the brain by increasing the movement of nutrition into and the waste out of nerve cells. In several European countries, doctors prescribe PS for dementia and depression in the elderly.

Nita began giving Bill three PS capsules, 300 milligrams, every day. Two months later his mind started showing evidence of clarity.

"When she'd say, 'Well, you know, we're going to have breakfast,' the thought was that we need cereal bowls or we need milk or whatever it was that we needed. And I just kind of got up and started doing those things," Scoggan recalled.

Signs of Improvement

His improvement continued especially as they added other brain boosters like fish oil, coenzyme Q10, carnitine and magnesium.

Within a year after starting PS, Scoggan was back driving their van around town and eventually on highways back to visit in the D.C. area. Dental visits became a more pleasant experience for both doctor and patient.

Now five years later, Scoggan is able to enjoy activities at the local senior center. He's able to concentrate on yard work and even help out in the kitchen. Scoggan's neurologists were amazed at the turnaround.

All this comes thanks to changes in his diet including the addition of a simple dietary supplement. That discovery was an answer to prayer for the Scoggans.

Nita Scoggan points heavenward.

"God gets all the glory," she said. "It's just such a thrill to be able to share it with people and give them hope."

*Originally aired Sept. 23, 2009.


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