Think About Brain Health

Although it is mainly older people that are concerned with brain exercises, new research suggests that we should pay more attention to brain health from an early age.

One in ten people over the age of 65 have dementia, after the age of 85 it is one in three. One research scientist has likened it to superannuation, in as much as you should start investing in the health of your brain as early as possible.

The decline in brain function can take decades meaning that lifestyle in the early years will impact on the brain as we age.

Brain exercises are now considered perfectly normal. It seems that everywhere you go these days you will come across people doing crosswords, Sudoku and various types of activities to keep the brain in shape but not so long ago the idea that the brain needed exercising would have met with derision or scepticism.

My husband Chris and I have always believed in holistic health and back in the eighties we were becoming interested in a new form of eye exercise. When we mentioned it among a group of friends and family they thought we had lost the plot. One can only imagine what they would have said about brain exercises.

Whilst it is obvious that most people want to keep everything in good working order for as long as possible, it is no secret that, fear of dementia as we age is a driving force behind the brain exercise explosion. Baby boomers, of which I am one, expect to live for a long time and they expect to accomplish more than their parents and grandparents did.

People want to be fit and healthy to enjoy the latter part of their lives so brain health is becoming an accepted part of our health and fitness regime.

A healthy lifestyle has the potential to prevent around a third of all dementia. Even people in the early stages of the disease can still make a difference if they make changes beneficial to the health of their brain. Although it is not by any means conclusive, medical science and research have proved that a healthy lifestyle makes a difference to the health of our brain.

Some of the key factors that may help to lessen the impact of dementia are pretty well known to most people by now but it is worth reiterating them.

Avoid Smoking. Not smoking helps to prevent the onset of dementia. It also lowers the risk of several other smoker related diseases. Passive smoking can still be a problem but has been greatly reduced by introduction of smoking bans in the workplace and public areas.

It is a known fact that when you stop smoking the body starts repairing itself straightaway regardless of how long you have been a smoker. When the body is well maintained and cared for it will run efficiently well into old age.

Alcohol Consumption. No-one can dictate just how much alcohol another person should drink but the standard drinks rule does set guidelines for responsible drinking. Alcohol just like smoking has a whole raft of associated diseases that are well documented.

Physical Exercise. Obesity is now looming as the next health related catastrophe; this is shocking when you think that it is a preventable disease. Walking, cycling or cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and the blood vessels to the brain. Apart from keeping you physically fit, it helps the brain to become sharper and more alert.

Adequate Sleep. A solid night’s sleep is critical for good health. This is the only time the body is able to heal and rejuvenate itself. While it is possible to get by on minimal sleep in the short term it is not wise to do it on a regular basis.

Over time sleep deprivation can cause major health problems. And researchers are now studying the effect that lack of sleep can have on the brain. They have proved that in the short term it can affect judgement, mood, and the ability to learn and retain information.

Lack of sleep can also disrupt the immune system and long term it can lead to diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Healthy Eating Habits. A healthy diet should include fresh wholesome food and little or no processed food. Keep your fluid levels topped up with water rather than soft drinks or sweet juices.

The whole diet issue can be a bit of a minefield, it just isn’t possible to prescribe an eating plan that suits everyone. Do your research, don’t get taken in by fancy marketing and remember that supplements are just that; they are to supplement a diet that is deficient of a particular vitamin or mineral. They can’t totally compensate for the lack of a balanced diet.

Try not eating on the run, chew food thoroughly and if possible eat at a table in a comfortable position. It is never too late to make changes to your lifestyle.

Lifestyle Changes.

The good thing about exercising the brain is the sheer number of exercises or activities that are available. However it is important to vary exercises so that they don’t become rote.

Of course brain exercises don’t have to be exercises in the strictest terms, any activity that involves thinking is an exercise in itself.

An activity which involves learning something new is good for the brain, even a simple task being done for the first time engages the brain into thinking mode.

Problem solving is a form of brain exercise, especially complex problems with multiple solutions.

It could be argued that people who work or lead a busy life don’t need to do brain exercises but it depends on how much they actually stretch the brain. Tasks which in the beginning may have seemed complex become easier so the brain doesn’t work so hard.

Anyone who has ever learnt to drive can relate to this. At first it is scary trying to remember all the moves, especially if it is a manual drive. However it soon becomes so natural that you hardly need to think about it, it is a bit like being on automatic pilot. It is almost as if the brain is saying “Wake me when something happens”. The old saying “Use it or lose it” has plenty of merit where the brain is concerned, so exercising it make sense.

Although many people think about brain exercises in terms of Sudoku, scrabble or chess it is a much broader subject altogether. For anyone thinking of doing these types of exercises and wondering what would be best here is a brief overview that may help.

First of all the exercises can be grouped into three main categories.

1) Games. Brain exercises that are just that brain exercises, and nothing more.

Games such as scrabble, Sudoku, chess and similar are ideal because apart from exercising the brain they are a form of enjoyment or relaxation.

They are portable and can be done anywhere at any time, ideal in situations like travel when one has to wait around. Mobile platforms now make it easier than ever, I could never get anyone to play scrabble with me but nowadays I play against the computer whenever I want.

Of course if any of these games are notched up to competition level that involves a bigger workout for the brain.

2) Brain exercises as a by product.

This occurs when you take up a new interest that has a learning curve. If for instance you became interested in astronomy and wanted to learn all about it your brain would have to process all the new information. This is a great way to exercise the brain naturally.

As our life becomes more dominated by technology it is crucial to acquire skills which allow us to take advantage of the electronic age. Since computer technology is complex it involves a big learning curve.

Chris has always been into computers but I put off using one for years because it all seemed too hard. Fortunately it is never too late and now I have one of my own and don’t know what I would do without it!

3) Brain exercises with a purpose.

This happens when you undertake a task with an end goal in mind. You might do a university course to get a degree or learn a language to go travelling. Maybe you want a complete change of career and need to learn a new set of skills.

These types of activities appeal to people who like a challenge or who are looking to make changes in their life. Increasing numbers of older people or retirees are moving in this direction because they feel they want more out of life than to sit around doing puzzles on a permanent basis.

In his book “The brain that changes itself” Norman Doidge M.D. Cites the case of Dr Stanley Karansky who practised as an anaesthesiologist until he retired at age 70. Retirement didn’t suit him so he retrained himself as a family doctor and worked until he was 80.

Not so many years ago the “Masters Games” were introduced because so many older people were participating in competitive sport. Watching entrants aged in the nineties competing in marathons and swimming races would have seemed impossible to our parents and grandparents. We now accept it as normal and as we learn more about what the brain is capable of who knows what the future will bring.

Brain health isn’t just a fad it is here to stay and no-one will question the fact that our brain, like the rest of our body needs regular exercise and a good diet.

Dementia – The Silent Killer

Dementia is a thief that robs elderly citizens of their ability to communicate effectively and carry out routine daily activities such as dressing, feeding, and bathing. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, but there are approximately 50 different disorders that can cause dementia including strokes, infections, and medication irregularities. There are many different behaviors manifested in Alzheimer’s patients ranging from forgetfulness to aggressiveness to inappropriate sexual conduct. While it is truly sad to see any person impacted in such a negative manner from a cognitive and physical standpoint, we must realize this disease also effects families and not just the individual. In most cases a family member cares for a loved one with Alzheimer’s at home with a minimal amount of support. Since the disease gets progressively worse as time goes on, the intensity of care also increases proportionately until keeping the person effected at home is no longer a realistic option.

The physical demands can become so overwhelming that the results can be chronic fatigue, ill health, or even hospitalization for the caretaker or family member. This only exacerbates an already volatile situation and ultimately neither the person with Alzheimer’s or the caretaker benefits. In addition, the emotional toll on family members can also become a tremendous burden if not addressed in a healthy and open manner. Support groups are a popular form of encouragement and education for family members who are also serving as the primary caretaker. These groups allow members to share experiences, and even more important, provide an outlet to socialize with others in similar circumstances.

It is somewhat disappointing that more information regarding Alzheimer’s is not in the mainstream media. While millions of families suffer in silence, the numbers continue to increase as more people continue to be diagnosed with this insidious disease. Moreover, the number of younger patients with early onset Alzheimer’s is also on the rise. While the typical age for diagnosing Alzheimer’s is 80 years old, today doctors are seeing people as young as 45 with early signs of dementia. The potential costs to society are enormous, as more and more young adults are being diagnosed during their most productive years. The impact on families and communities could have far reaching consequences resulting in increased health care costs over longer periods of time. For families with minor children still living at home, having a parent diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s effects social and emotional development and places family dynamics under an incredible amount of stress. Given aging populations worldwide, continued research and commitment towards the treatment, and ultimately a cure, for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are essential.

What is Alzheimer’s Dementia and What Can Family Members Expect?

What is Alzheimer’s dementia is a common question. Once the diagnosis is given, many family members feel a sense of relief that there is a name for what is happening to the aging senior in their life.

Once a diagnosis is given, that is when the medical or health care delivery system really fails their patients and family members. Over time, family caregivers will feel a sense of disappointment and disconnect from the health care professionals. While the health care professionals are able to diagnose and prescribe medications, they are not seeing and experiencing what you are at home.

I cannot tell you how many times family caregivers have been overwhelmed and frustrated with a situation and behaviors exhibited at home, only to be told that is part of the disease. There was no offer of a solution or a referral to a community resource made that would be beneficial.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive form of dementia. It is the most common of all dementias. Although there it is not understood what causes Alzheimer’s, scientists have found that this disease causes severe damage to the brain cells.

There are two types of brain cell damage that occurs in individuals with this dreadful disease. Plaque build up, of a normally harmless protein, interferes with the brain cells communications resulting in cell death.

Unnatural tangles of the brain cells occur causing them to become twisted and die. As the disease progresses, and the brain cell death increases, the behaviors and physical abilities as described in the stages of Alzheimer’s occur.

More on what is Alzheimer’s Dementia? We have a diagnosis, what do we do now?

The progression of this disease gives families time to educate and prepare for what lies ahead when a diagnosis is made. There are seven stages of Alzheimer’s. These stages are based on the behavioral, physical and cognitive changes that may be exhibited as the disease progresses.

It is important to understand that while the stages have behaviors and physical changes that occur at each level, every individual is different and will not exhibit a clear cut pattern specific that is specific to each stage.

What I mean, is a person will not display all the behaviors or physical changes listed. Nor will an individual consistently go by the book, as far being in one stage at a time. Many individuals will display a range of behaviors in two or three stages at a time.

There are times when an individual will stay in one stage and stabilize for a long period of time. Other times, there may be a rapid deterioration that occurs and an individual may appear to skip a stage.

It is important to start preparing for the future care needs of the aging senior with Alzheimer’s as well as for the family care givers.

In most situations, I find that there is one primary care giver, a spouse or an adult child that carries the responsibility of providing the care for the aging senior. The family caregiver often does not initially realize that this care giving journey could last as long as 20 years or be as short as 3 years.

So it is very important that the family caregiver become the primary focus along with their aging family member with Alzheimer’s dementia. The emotions of care giving will encompass chronic grief, depression, anger, frustration and social isolation. Care giver stress is very real and has severe health consequences, when left untreated, for the care giver.

It is never easy when you receive the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia. It is important that when you or a family member does receive that diagnosis, you immediately take action and make plans for future care needs.

That would include the family care giver learning as much as they can about the disease, the exploring and joining the support systems such as the Alzheimer’s organization to help guide and prepare you for this unknown journey.

Help Dementia By Meditating With Brainwave Entrainment

It’s no secret that meditation has many benefits and it’s not a new kid on the block.

For hundreds of years, if not thousands, meditation has been practiced daily, in just about every culture of the world, to achieve a no mind state of consciousness, where the brain releases chemicals to enhance health physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Meditation is a process that enables a person to communicate between you and your mind and your mind and your body.

If meditation can reverse damages done to the mind and brain, and stimulate areas of the brain that are not being used, it stands to reason that meditation can help with the symptoms of dementia.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania, has confirmed that daily meditation can improve cognitive function. Cognitive function, is an intellectual process by which one becomes aware of, perceives, or comprehends ideas. This involves aspects of perception, thinking, reasoning, and remembering… all functions that are impaired in dementia patients.

In this study, subjects were taught how to meditate using Kundalini Yoga and were told to meditate 12 minutes a day for a period of eight weeks.

Kundalini yoga meditation involves the chanting of sounds, or words, in a repeating rhythm, to redirect the flow of thoughts, altering the brain’s normal patterns, neural chemistry, and emotional balance.

After the eight weeks, SPECT scans showed a significant increase in blood flow to the area of the brain that deteriorates in people with Alzheimer’s disease-the area associated with learning and memory.

“If this kind of meditation is helping patients with memory loss, we are encouraged by the prospects that daily practice may even prevent neurodegenative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.” Andrew Newberg, M.D.

Meditation, any kind of meditation, is not a skill that is easily acquired, and is especially difficult in people who have damaged areas in their brain.

Brainwave entrainment is a powerful, fast and efficient form of technology, that uses audio and/or visual pulses, to engage the brain into a specific pattern. Using specially designed recordings, while attempting a meditative state, can hasten the effect. Entrainment stimulates the brain to alter its dominant brainwave frequency to a precise brainwave that improves cognitive function.

Practicing Kundalini meditation, with a brainwave entrainment recording, will carve new neural pathways in the brain, those of which can be seen physically, on a brain scan. New neural networks form in the gray matter, waking up areas of the brain that are not being used to the best of their ability and enhances the damaged areas. Memories, made through the course of the day, have a new place to be stored, by-passing the damaged areas that used to store memories.

It’s very exciting to think that dementia symptoms can be diminished or maybe even eliminated, just by changing the way the brain stores memories.

Brainwave entrainment is a technology that can speed up the ability to achieve a meditative state, which in turn speeds up the receiving of cognitive benefits.

Music Memory – Can’t Get That Song Out of My Head!

I just read a fascinating interview with Matthew Schulkind, a cognitive scientist at Amherst College. He’s been studying older adults to figure out why popular songs stick in our heads so persistently. (His ultimate aim is to see if music can help his patients with dementia regain lost memories.)

He believes musical memory is memory that doesn’t take conscious thought – like throwing a ball, or walking.[Thisisoftencalled”proceduralmemory”comparedto”declarative”memorywhichisforfactslikerememberingarecipeforoatmealcookies)Surprisingly[Thisisoftencalled”proceduralmemory”comparedto”declarative”memorywhichisforfactslikerememberingarecipeforoatmealcookies)Surprisingly

Older People Do NOT Have “Magical Memory” For Songs From Their Youth

He was surprised by this, but older people don’t have some savant-like ability to recall songs from their childhood. Even when prompted by the first few bars of the song. However, if they had an emotional connection to a song (meaning, the song from long ago was tied to an intensely positive or negative experience), then they were much more likely to recall the whole song perfectly.


Earworms are those songs that get stuck in your head, and you just can’t seem to shake them! This can be very frustrating, and it is typically the simplest (and most annoying) songs too! I’m sure you all can find ways to “take your mind off” something you don’t want to hear about. You basically replace the thoughts by distracting yourself with other thoughts. But it’s not so simple to get rid of these songs. Schulkind theorizes that this means musical recall must be supported b a different part of the brain than other types of thinking and memory.

Music And Lost Memories

Schulkind’s studies on using music to retrieve long term memory found, in at least one of his experiments, that listening to music from your past can certainly help recover “lost” memories, even in patients with dementia (like Alzheimer’s). This seems to indicate that part of the memory problems with dementia is recovery – the memories are still there, but the access to them is hampered.

Dementia In A Nutshell

Dementia is a deterioration of mental condition. Dementia usually occurs in later life, though rarer cases of presenile dementia are diagnosed. Terms that are used synonymously with dementia are chronic brain syndrome, organic mental syndrome, and senile confusional state.

The incidence of dementia is less than 10% of persons over age 65 but perhaps a quarter of those over age 80 and half of all nursing home patients. Dementia is not the most common mental disorder in later life (that is depression), nor should it be considered an inevitable concomitant of aging. Many individuals are able to preserve cognitive functioning into their ninth decade.

The onset of most cases of dementia tends to be gradual. The first mental changes may be heightened rigidity, suspiciousness, crankiness, or depression. As the disorder progresses, deficits in short-term memory become pronounced. Patients may be able to recall in great detail what happened years ago but be unable to remember the answers to a question given five minutes ago. One woman in a nursing home could remember how to play a song she had learned in a Prohibition-era honky tonk, but when the other residents applauded and asked for another song, she played it again. The ability to follow instructions also decreases, leading to the consternation of the patient’s caregivers. Disorientation in time develops: the patient does not know which day of the week it is. Then comes disorientation in place: the patient may get lost, even in familiar territory. The patient may develop aphasias, apraxias, perseveration, and/or social withdrawal. In later stages the recognition of significant others may be lost, along with bowel and bladder functions. Death usually occurs when the patient loses the ability to swallow.

Dementia is different in kind rather than degree from the forgetfulness of which most elders complain. Benign senescent forgetfulness is an age-associated memory impairment that does not have a serious prognostic implication. Neither is dementia analogous to a second childhood. Childish playfulness stems from a lack of knowledge about proper adult roles, whereas demented elders may manifest such behavior because of impaired memory, confusion, or sensory/motor limitations. Some nursing home patients may act more like children if the staff rewards such behavior with attention, especially affection.

More than 50 different diseases can bring about dementia. Huntington’s chorea is due entirely to the presence of a single dominant gene. Creutzfeld-Jakob disease is caused by viral infection, perhaps due to the consumption of insufficiently cooked bovine brain. Kuru, a viral infection in Melanesia, may be spread by ritual cannibalism. Hydrocephalus is excessive pressure of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles, impairing the functioning of the cortex. Chronic alcohol abuse, tertiary syphilis (general paresis), AIDS, encephalitis, subdural hemotoma, Parkinson’s Disease, intracranial neoplasm, head trauma, and meningitis are other possible causes.

The majority of the demented geriatric patients suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease (also known as senile dementia of the Alzheimer type), which results in specific degenerative diseases in the brain’s tissues. A similar though rarer disorder is Pick’s disease, which usually affects people in their fifties and is located primarily in the frontal and temporal lobes. These changes can be observed postmortem or via computerized tomography.

Before 1980 it was assumed that the principal cause of dementia is cerebral arteriosclerosis, a hardening of the brain’s arteries that results in less oxygen being supplied to the brain’s tissues. The current consensus is that diminished blood flow is a significant causal factor in only a minority of dementia cases of later life. Reduced oxygen may be more a symptom of reduced cortical functioning rather than its cause. A greater cause of dementia posed by the vascular system may be multi-infarct dementia-many tiny strokes that have the combined impact of diminishing cognitive ability without bringing on the paralysis characteristic of the larger strokes.

The diagnosis of dementia cannot be based solely upon the patient’s complaints of a failing memory. There is no correlation between the self-reported memory capacity and memory capacity as indicated by objective tests. Many of the elders who complain the most about diminishing memory are well within the normal range but suffer from depression. Some thoroughly demented patients perceive no difficulty with their memories.

The first step should be brief psychological screening tests. Use of the Bender-Gestalt, Intelligence Quotient test scales, or other tests devised for other purposes or other age groups should be avoided. Questions that test the capacity for orientation in space and time are useful. The ability to draw a clock face with its hands and dial is useful. Focusing the examination on short-term memory tends to neutralize some of the confounding variables and give a truer indication of dementia. Many of these tests (e.g., the Mental Status Questionnaire or the Folstein Mini Mental Status Exam) have a greater sensitivity than specificity: it is more likely that some normal elders will be misdiagnosed as having dementia than that seniles will score in the normal range. Whenever these screening tests suggest the presence of dementia, a comprehensive neurological examination is appropriate.

One diagnostic difficulty is to distinguish organically based dementia from a pseudodementia due to depression. Dementia is usually characterized by a gradual onset, while depression may have a rapid progression of symptoms in the wake of environmental stress or loss. Depressed patients are more likely to complain of memory loss and give “don’t know” answers. Purely demented patients are more likely to attempt to conceal cognitive deficits or to give ludicrous answers rather than admit that they do not know the answer. One complication for the differential diagnosis of depression is that self-rating scales (e.g., the Geriatric Depression Scale) may lose their validity as senile confusion increases: the patient may be unable to understand the questions. Another problem with differential diagnosis is that the two disorders are not mutually exclusive. Awareness of cognitive decline can produce a depressive reaction, and a sizable minority of early-stage dementia patients develop a clinically significant depression.

Another possibility is that the cognitive impairments are the result of a delirium or an amnestic disorder rather than dementia. This may be the case with many confused elders admitted to general hospitals. What is needed is a knowledge of the details about the onset, course, and laboratory testing. The complicating factors are that delirious patients cannot take memory tests and these disorders are not mutually exclusive.

Even with computerized tomography and spinal taps, the diagnosis of dementia is far from exact. Some patients are falsely labeled as demented, while other cases might go unnoticed until autopsy.

Treatment for dementia can be both medical and psychosocial. About a fifth of dementia patients have a treatable organic cause (e.g., hydrocephalus, which is treatable by surgery). The use of medications has been much debated. While some patients report some benefit from tacrine or Hydergine, some report side effects from the former and most report little benefit from the latter. Another controversial issue is the use of psychiatric medications (e.g., antidepressants, antipsychotics) with dementia patients. In many nursing homes the antidepressants are probably underutilized while the antipsychotics are often given to diminish behaviors that the staff may find objectionable or inconvenient.

Caring For Seniors With Dementia

This article will help explaining about the dementia and general information pertaining to it. I will provide some useful tips for people helping their seniors with this disease. You will find some real practical and realistic solutions to issues you face while taking care of people suffering from dementia. While many of you will be inspired to assist such people, there are many of us who are here to get help so that in turn you can help person who recently got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s which is another form of dementia. And you are going to prepare yourself to help such a family member for whom you were never ready. You know the person is losing his memory gradually and you need to be around that person all the time to help him living respectfully.

The first thing you need to seek is information on this disease like what the nature of this disease is and how it is going to exist or even grow with the person.

The disease when found from the time of diagnose will live for 10 years with the affected person. This indicates either it’s going to be 10 difficult years or you would change those difficult years into well manageable time where you learnt the right way to take care of them thus making a quality life for both of you. As I mentioned, there are lot many practical ways you can follow to relieve stress on you and your loved ones. I would simply ask you to follow these three rules:

• Always keep in mind quality of your life is still better than person with such disease.

• If you are stressed, angry, helpless, then this mental state is going to affect the person you are taking care of.

• Well there are lots of situations you must have heard with people suffering from dementia. Don’t assume you are going to face the same times and anticipate issues before.

Alzheimer’s and dementia always evolves with the time. If you are facing some situation at any moment, keep in mind, its one of the stages of evolvement of this disease. Problems you might face in the beginning would never be the same at the later stage. Each situation arising may be unique to that instance only and you will have to adapt to it quickly. You might be thinking of a technique to help them today which would be impossible by tomorrow looking at the condition which will be worse.

As you know very well that it’s going to be evolving with time, teach your attitude with same evolvement, your care and temperament should also evolve and go parallel with it. There may be a situation where you find a solution to a problem but it’s normal if it is not going to be a success for same kind of problems in future. No solution is static with such disease. And then you will feel so helpless and alone facing problems of this kind. Any easy solution to such loneliness feelings is Dementia or Alzheimer’s Societies which have been setup to ease such feelings. Such associations will give you a chance to meet similar families facing same problems as yours. You can easily search for such associations on Internet. You can find the address and contact information of members of these institutions and meet them. You will be able to share your challenges and even methods that helped you with dementia’s people with such member’s and families which will give you a lot of relief.

While finding such people online, try locating people who are closer to your place so that you can reach them easily. And then you will surely see a change that now you can handle person with such disease more effectively than ever before. And I would feel I have accomplished what I wanted if this piece of information have helped finding you a meaning of life again for them and yourself. I know its true that there is still no remedy to this problem, but believe me there are some methods and techniques you will learn gradually with experience that you can impart to overcome problems confidently.

Understanding Dementia and Functional Limitations in the Elderly

Dementia in the elderly can produce significant deficits in functional abilities, which can affect their ‘independence’ and ‘safety’ living at home, especially if living alone. This can include: difficulty tending to basic self-care needs such as hygiene, bathing, dressing, etc.; difficulty with taking medications on schedule everyday; preparing and eating adequate meals; increased risk for falling due to incoordination, weakness and poor safety awareness; difficulty with communicating skills, etc. Dementia can also cause a change in personality, psychosis and delusional thinking; and a host of other problems, both subtle and obvious.

Although most people are familiar with Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD), there are also other forms of dementia that can affect older adults. This includes vascular dementia, multi-infarct dementia, Lewey body dementia, and Frontotemporal dementia. People with other primary disorders, such as Parkinson’s or stroke, may also develop some form of dementia at some point. Dementia is usually classified as mild, moderate or severe. When AD is diagnosed in someone who is younger, say 65 years of age, the progression tends to be quicker and more severe than in someone who is 80 years old and only recently diagnosed with the disorder. A CT scan can often reveal if there are any significant areas of atrophy in the brain, sometimes related to multi-infarct or vascular dementia.

It is important to know what type of dementia the person has and if they should be taking any medications for the disorder. Often, older adults at home will not seek out a physician or neurologist to get an accurate diagnosis and receive the proper medication, which can make living at home more difficult; both for the person and the caregiver, if there is one.

One of the hallmarks of AD is the difficulty with language and communication skills. Those with AD may have difficulty expressing themselves and communicating with others. Withdrawal and decreased socialization may occur. They may become depressed due to a recognition that their mental abilities have diminished. Sometimes the physician will prescribe an anti-depressant that may also alleviate some of the symptoms of their dementia.

Some of the cognitive components required to perform functional tasks include: adequate long and short term memory, appropriate insight and safety awareness, sequencing skills, ability to stay focused on a task, sufficient judgment and problem solving abilities, and higher level ‘executive function’ abilities. Executive function refers to our ability to plan and execute a series of tasks in order to produce a desired outcome. It is a complex mental ability which integrates the various cognitive skills; which people with dementia have difficulty with. For example, baking a cake requires the ability to preheat the oven, gather and mix all the ingredients in the proper amount, know when the oven is hot enough, know when the cake is done, and safely removing it from the oven at the correct time. Someone with dementia may have difficulty with many of the functional components required to do all of these steps in the correct order to produce the desired outcome.

When mental abilities have diminished, seniors are at a greater risk for declining physical health. Declining physical health related to cognitive deficits can occur due to poor eating habits and malnutrition, poor hygiene and self care skills, a greater risk for falling, not taking prescribed medications daily, not monitoring blood sugar levels – if diabetic, and a host of other health-related problems.

Some basic home adaptations for safety can include: hand rails on the stairs, well light rooms and stairwells, grab bars in the tub/shower, keeping toxic items out of reach or locked up, no throw rugs, low profile carpeting, no clutter in the walking paths of the home, limit carrying of items up and down stairs – such as laundry, taking away car keys to prevent them from driving if that is an issue (this is often a difficult issue to address for those with dementia), obtaining an ID bracelet if they are prone to wandering, a gate to prevent them from going down into the basement, and other adaptations as needed.

For those with mild to moderate dementia who live at home, here are some tips that may be helpful for the individual and the family / caregiver (the level of care will be dictated by the severity of the dementia):

  • It is important that the individual receive a proper diagnosis, which can be obtained from a neurologist, and that sufficient medication is provided. It is vital that a caregiver look after them and insure that medications are taken daily. If there is no family who can help, then maybe someone from their church or local senior center can be entrusted to help. Also, the local Agency On Aging can have someone look into their well being if there is no family member who is responsible for them.
  • Have medications dispensed from a daily pill organizer. This way a caregiver can make sure that each day’s medications are taken. Daily phone calls from someone familiar with the person can then check up on them and remind them, if they live alone.
  • Have meals-on-wheels provide at least one hot meal each day. This may not always be sufficient, but it can help insure that some nutrition is provided.
  • A local home care agency can provide a ‘house sitter’ to stay with the person each day and help out with daily chores. They are available for as many hours as needed. This can sometimes be expensive, but a lower rate can sometimes be given when they are employed for a certain amount of hours each week.
  • If the person is becoming incontinent, have them wear snug fitting disposable briefs with elastic leg bands. This will prevent accidents from ruining clothing. Have them on a toileting schedule of every two to three hours during the day. At night, a wet alarm on the mattress can be used to remind the person to change out of wet clothing.
  • Provide plenty of physical activities, such as daily walks. This is not only for their physical well being, but it has been shown that daily walks provide mental stimulation as well.
  • Have the person participate in mentally stimulating activities daily, such as board games, card games, etc.; tasks that require interaction and a bit of problem solving. Watching television is the least stimulating for those with dementia, but sometimes that is all they wish to do. The problem with television is there is no interaction or response required from the viewer, which is the same issue with young children. The person needs to be engaged with the environment in order for it to be sufficient as mental stimulation.
  • Allow the person to do as much of their own self-care, as possible; such as washing, grooming, etc. Some people with dementia enjoy using their hands and holding items; things that can be manipulated, etc. For a retired mechanic, maybe nuts and bolts could be used, for a housewife who enjoyed sewing or knitting, maybe a ball of yarn could be used. There is no limit to what can be tried; as long as the items are not sharp, could be swallowed easily, breakable, etc.
  • Be aware that those with moderate dementia often become more agitated in the late afternoon, and they should not be over-stimulated during this time frame. Sometimes a nap will help calm them. Even a change in medication intervals may help keep them calm in late afternoon.
  • Be aware that medications can affect their level of arousal. Let the physician know about any side affects which are affecting the person’s ability to function. Cognitive medications need to be at a certain level (titrated) in order to be effective. Too little medication will not help them and too much may produce undesired side affects.
  • Consider joining the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. They are a great resource for the client and family/caregiver.

Making Sense Out of Baby Boomer’s Frontotemporal Dementia

In March 2007, my husband, Dave, 57, was officially diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). I had never heard of FTD, let alone a baby boomer having Alzheimer’s, or any other related dementia. I thought it was only reserved for those people over 80–with crinkly skin and blue-white hair!

Frontotemporal is the second most common form of dementia, under the age of 65–behind Alzheimer’s. Initially, FTD affects the front half (frontal and temporal lobes) of the brain, while Alzheimer’s starts in the back half, where most of our memory is stored.

Damage to Dave’s ‘frontal’ lobes, which are responsible for personality, judgment and emotions, is the reason he is withdrawing–often with a ‘far away’ or vacant look on his face. He has lost his initiative and much of his ability, to carve birds–his favourite hobby for over 35 years. Loud or high-pitched sounds, such as babies crying, sirens, or trucks shifting gears on the highway, irritate his brain, causing him to wince with tears. These noises would be the equivalent of 100 fingernails scraping on a chalkboard. Dave has also developed rituals and routines, which are quite rigid. For instance, Monday is ‘cutting the lawn’ day–regardless of the weather, Tuesday is ‘gym’ day, Wednesday is a ‘garbage dump’ day (and it has to be a certain dump) and so on. The frontal lobes helps us to problem solve, and to use our common sense. I have to admit, this is one of the toughest areas for me to be patient. Sometimes, taking a deep breath, or counting to 20, doesn’t cut it! Last night was a perfect example. Our young springer spaniel, which has poor bladder control, got excited when our neighbour came to the door, and she peed in the foyer. Dave looked at the puddle, and even stepped over it, without thinking about wiping it up with a towel. Meanwhile, our spaniel walked back through her little mess, leaving wet paw prints all over the house!

In addition to the frontal lobe changes, both of Dave’s ‘temporal lobes’ are shrinking, and being replaced with fluid. It shows up as large, blackened areas on his CT scan. Since this area is responsible for understanding and recognizing words, faces, and their meanings, reading grocery lists, instruction manuals etc. are a challenge. The saddest loss is that Dave doesn’t recognize people he has known for years–even first cousins, and teachers, who were his colleagues for 25 years. When we are invited to a party, or any social gathering, Dave says very little because of his difficulty finding the right words. When he does speak, he will use many words to describe the one that he can’t find–known as ‘circumlocution’.

The progression for dementia varies with each person, but is similar to the Alzheimer’s rate: 5-8 years from time of diagnosis. Presently, there are no cures or medications, which will slow down FTD–they will only treat symptoms, such as depression or anxiety. Recently, research has shown that Frontotemporal dementia has a genetic component; it has something to do with tau protein production and chromosome 17. There is genetic testing for our 2 grown children, but I don’t have the inner strength to deal with that yet. Interestingly, chromosome 17 is the same one for Parkinson, and the reason why 10% of patients with FTD, show related symptoms. The classic signs of Parkinson–intention hand tremors and pill rolling with the fingers–showed up in Dave within the past year. This is another reason why he doesn’t spend much time carving and painting his ducks, which require fine and accurate hand coordination.

As more baby boomers reach their prime years–40’s, 50’s and 60’s–you will see a significant increase in ‘younger’ or early-onset dementia. Hopefully, brain research will not only find a cure for Alzheimer’s and related dementia, but just as importantly, discover how we can maintain a healthy brain, so that we never have to experience this debilitating and progressive condition.

If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you.

Benefits of Reminiscence Therapy on Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Care

It’s common to hear senior loved ones repeat old stories from time to time. It seems that there could be benefits to story-repeating seniors, especially those with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Reminiscence therapy is the process of recalling and discussing experiences from an individual’s past, often using prompts that appeal to one’s senses.

Since long-term memory is the last to go for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, reminiscing is a way to talk about things they remember. By talking about their childhood and early adulthood, older adults who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia become more confident about socializing and using their verbal skills. Even for seniors without dementia, reminiscing is a way to affirm who they are, what they’ve accomplished and relive happy times.

Reminiscence therapy can range from simple conversations with elderly loved ones, to certified therapists using props and clinical methods to help Alzheimer’s patients retrieve distant memories. Reminiscing has proven to be beneficial on many levels, including:

• Increases ability to communicate. Research shows that new pathways to the brain form as a patient remembers the past.

• Distraction from day-to-day struggles and relief from boredom.

• Alleviates symptoms of depression and helps come to terms with growing older.

• Increases self-worth and sense of belonging in the world.

• Preserves stories and memories for future generations.

• Helps reduce reclusive tendencies that cause depression and anxiety.

• Encourages seniors to regain interest in past hobbies.

• Reduces apathy and confusion, especially in people who are confused or disoriented.

• Helps unlock memories.

While someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may not remember the recent past, memories from their childhood or early adult years may come back quickly with a little prompting.

There are multiple methods for arousing memories when caring for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It may be as simple as starting a well-known family story and asking for help finishing it. Think of topics or stories that may spark a memory or discussion-a train ride, favorite trip, childhood paper route, seeing a movie for a quarter, or setting the table for Sunday dinner. If a topic seems effective, ask related questions and encourage further engagement.

Props often help. Look at old photographs or ask about the origins of mementos found throughout the home. Watch a favorite old movie or TV show. Sporting events may bring back memories of watching a big game or playing with friends as a child.

Music is often effective at awaking the memories of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Old songs and childhood rhymes seem to have a way of communicating with people with Alzheimer’s or dementia in ways that the spoken word cannot. Think of music that was popular in their youth or associated with a meaningful event in their life.

Scrapbooking and books about historical events are also helpful memory tools for loved ones with dementia. Scrapbooking allows you to create a custom memory book filled with meaningful photos to share with your elderly loved one.

It may be tempting to zone out upon hearing a story for the tenth time. However, by actively listening, making eye contact, and asking engaging questions, you and those you care for may enjoy increased communication, rekindled relationship, and renewed purpose, even if it is only temporary.

Home care is a great resource for family caregivers needing respite and seniors without family or friends available to provide care. A home care company can provide professional caregivers to offer companionship and encourage storytelling to their senior clients.