A New Perspective: Can Travel Help Reverse Alzheimer’s?

By Katie Foote, Epicure & Culture contributor

Most people would never consider taking aging relatives to live off-grid in a developing country; never mind people with special health considerations like Alzeimer’s or a nuerodegenerative disease.

However, Grace Van Berkum brazenly did just that. And if you’re looking for inspiring recovery-focused Alzheimer’s stories, she shares a powerful one below.

In fact, she rescued her father — who has Alzeimer’s — from his rest home in Canada for a “love kidnap” to her new retreat center in Nicaragua.

Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s is tough, though when one holistic nutrionist realized the nursing home her father was in wasn't feeding him healings food or brain food, she brought him on a trip to Nicaragua to visit the healing retreat she owns.The Alzheimer’s Disease recovery effects were incredible! #InspiringStories #Wellness #Travel

Grace is an inspiring entreprenuer and founder of vegan, plant-powered “Gracious Living Lifestyle” retreats around the world, including building a “Gracious Living Oasis” (GLO) Wellness Centre in Nicaragua.

Grace harnesses the healing powers of nature and shares her love of fresh, vegan foods from the earth with guests, inviting them to be a part of a more conscious movement.

To help those searching for positive Alzheimer’s stories, she has been sharing her father’s healing journey on social media.

Now, she shares the inspiring anecdote, focused on travel and reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s naturally, with the Epicure and Culture community.

Alzheimer's stories

Grace of Gracious Living. Photo courtesy of Lucia Hazel.

Personal Alzheimer’s Stories: One Woman’s Inspiring Account Of Helping Her Father Heal

1) What inspired you to start your own wellness retreat in Nicaragua?

I come from an abusive childhood and past — my mother — and it has been a painful and challenging journey to heal the traumas I endured from it.

Part of my healing was realizing that there was a deeper life meaning behind all the events I went through, and that was that I had to give back to others who have struggled with the same things I struggled with like abuse, addicition, disordered eating and self-hatred.

A big part of releasing my attachment as a victim, learning to forgive myself and others, and becoming more empowered in this lifetime, was to transfer the painful energy I carry with me in my body and my heart, and help others with the knowledge and experiences I have been through.

Being able to do this gives my life meaning and fulfillment. It gives me hope and strength to help others and fuels me to keep going on.

I started out as a holistic nutritionist and personal trainer in Toronto in 2006, and quickly realized that I needed to live my dream on a beach in the tropics to be truly happy and somehow tie in my health and wellness business into that dream.

The concept of Gracious Living Oasis Wellness Centre (GLO) was born and is still a work in progress as I recently opened last year. I am so thrilled with the rapid progress and how the universe has supported the manifestation of living my authentic truth of serving others.

Alzheimer's stories

Grace and her dad. Photo courtesy of Grace Van Berkum.

2) When did your dad get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? How was his Alzheimer’s treatment handled before you decided to bring him to Nicaragua?

My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about six years ago.

We eventually ended putting him in an old age home when he was found unconscious in his apartment. This is when we realized he could no longer take care of himself.

The nurses in the old age home were lovely; but no one cared about nutrition and brain health the way I did as a Holisitic Nutritionist.

My father also healed his cancer 12 years ago after being given only 10 months left to live, and I know dedication to life-giving foods and time in nature helped heal his cancer naturally.

He wasn’t getting healing, anti-inflammatory foods at the senior home, nor was he getting enough sunshine, movement and positive conversations and energy. Instead, the goal of the senior home was to keep everyone safe and keep then happy with sugar and television.

My approach has been to put my father in situations that help his cells and brain to thrive. There is still a lot of life left in him when put in the right environment and given loving attention!

New home in Nicaragua.

New home in Nicaragua.  Photo courtesy of Grace Van Berkum.

3) What made you decide to bring your dad to Nicaragua to work on Alzheimer’s recovery? How did you plan for his arrival?

Everytime I went to visit my dad in his senior home, I would cringe.

And be very sad; everyone was really sad in there.

No one would talk to each other. There was a lot of screaming and crying and drooling. They were being fed a lot of gluten, sugar and processed foods —  things that I know will increase degeneration of the body and brain.

It hit me one day.

Here I was, building a wellness center in nature with all of this land. Why were we paying all this money to keep my dad in the senior home — which wasn’t healthy by my standards, or focusedon Alzheimer’s recovery through better nutrition — when I could possibly bring him to Nicaragua and take care of him according to my standards of what it takes to thrive and be alive.

So I convinced my family and his doctors to take him out of the home as an experiment and come to Nicaragua with me for three weeks to see how he did, which I summarized on my website.

Alzheimer's stories

Before and after pictures, after 8 months of living in Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Grace Van Berkum.

4) What progress has he made since he arrived? How does he spend his time?

Since coming to Nicaragua and being introduced to natural ways to prevent Alzheimer’s, my father has become younger!

He looks about 20 years younger.

He often walks without his cane now.

He is happier.

He laughs all the time.

He tells jokes.

He loves to draw.

He loves to read.

He loves to play with the dogs.

He loves to flirt with the yoga girls — seriously!

His memory is better!

He is more alive!

And the biggest improvement:

I have gotten him off all of his medications! He is doing way better without them.

Now, the only pill he takes for Alzheimer’s recovery is a natural supplement for brain health.

alzheimer's stories

GLO plant based food. Photo courtesy of Grace Van Berkum.

5) How has having him in Nicaragua improved your life? How has it enhanced the retreat experience for other guests?

Having my dad here while running my retreat business is not always easy.

Although my dad is way better, he is still like my child. I always need to make sure he is safe and not getting into any trouble; but it makes me happy to have him here with me where I can control what food he eats. Here, I ensure he has the best foods to heal his brain and body.

I am doing my best to give him the best. It is of the utmost importance to me that he leaves this earth in the most peaceful and happiest way possible.

And my guests love him!

I regulary post about his Alzheimer’s recovery progress and our funny moments on Facebook and Instagram. He has quite the following now. Hearing positive Alzheimer’s stories like his gives people hope and inspiration.

When guests come to GLO, they already feel like they know him. Everyone brings him gifts and chats with him for hours.

It really is so special. He is a lucky man. I always tell him that his friends at the old age home would be jealous of his new life!

alzheimer's stories

Christian Van Berkum. Photo of Grace Van Berkum.

6) Has your story with your dad influenced any of your retreat guests and/or social media followers in terms of what to do when a parent has Alzheimer’s?

Yes!

People tell me all the time that my dad’s story gives them hope; that given the right environment and situation — especially one focused on Alzheimer’s recovery through better nutrition — there is hope for improvement.

We live in a culture where old people are not given much attention; where they are put away in homes until they die.

What I have learned and realized is there is so much more life left in our elders if we continue to feed them right and treat them as if their life still matters.

I knew in my heart that my dad’s situation would improve living with me and eating the best fresh foods and superfoods —  again, Alzheimer’s recovery through better nutrition has been a major focus.

What I didn’t realize was how quickly and monumental the transition and progress would be.

I think this is incredible and something that most people don’t realize is possible!

alzheimer's stories

Grace and a balancing act. Photo courtesy of Grace Van Berkum.

7) What advice would you give to Epicure & Culture readers who may be struggling with aging parents and/or people struggling with nuerodegenerative diseases?

I feel blessed to be able to provide my dad with this opportunity because I know many people do not have the background to provide this to their parents.

That being said, there are always things that people can do to improve brain health:

  • Eating more anti-inflammatory foods
  • Spending more time in sunshine and fresh air
  • Having hobbies
  • Stimulating the mind
  • Connecting to others

All of these things help us function better and live better.

You can read more about this on an article I wrote recently about my dad’s situation, especially helpful for those learning how to deal when a parent has Alzheimer’s.

The main thing I would like to say is:

Don’t give up.

Cherish each moment.

There comes a point where we are no longer the children of our parents, but we become parents to our parents.

That is hard to accept; though, we will all go through it at some point and we are all going to die.

Positive Alzheimer’s Stories: Inspiring Final Words

Life is precious and life is short.

Yes, we are all going to die; but, it is really important that we leave this earth with as light of a heart as possible.

Say the things you need to say to others, especially your parents.

Forgive your parents for whatever you need to. They did the best they could with the information they had.

Don’t leave this world with regrets.

Every action counts.

Every word counts.

It’s never too late to redefine the moments of your past.

Do you have any Alzheimer’s stories focused on natural recovery to share? We’d love to hear in the comments below! 

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Alzheimer’s caregivers have a lot on their plate, especially when dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease. If you like inspiring stories, this blog post shares one womans account of bringing her dad on a trip to Nicaragua to a healing retreat filled with nature activities and healing foods. It's truly an incredible story! #nutrition #health #healing

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Katie Foote

Katie Foote may be a physicist by trade but she spent several years travelling the world as much as possible. After four years of semi-nomadic life, she spent a couple years in Auckland, New Zealand and recently moved to Vancouver, Canada. Despite living more traditionally, she has insight on how to travel the world on a graduate student budget (cheap!), explore off-the-beaten-path destinations and authentically experiencing new places by connecting to locals. When she's not doing physics or globe-trotting, she likes kickboxing, yoga and exploring her extraordinary new backyard of British Columbia.

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