Top 5 Dementia Articles for 2014

canstockphoto1476746We thought it fitting to provide you with a new top 5 list to ring in the new year.  Listed below are the top 5 articles on DEMENTIA for this, the first week of 2014.  We hope you find it both interesting and informative.  As always, if you have comments, suggestions, or additional resources to add we invite you to participate in our comments section below!

Top 5 Articles on Dementia

1.  Bringing Dementia Patients Back To Life (The Atlantic; Jan. 5, 2014):  This article focuses on the many misconceptions of a dementia diagnosis, and it focuses what dementia patients CAN DO, not what they can’t.  Money Quote: “In some cases, unresponsiveness may say less about a patient’s disability than a failure on our part to offer something worth responding to.”

2. Heart Disease Could Be Tied To Dementia For Older Women (Reuters; Jan. 2, 2014)  Reuters reacts to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association entitled Cardiovascular Disease and Cognitive Decline in Postmenopausal Women: Results From the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study.  This study looked at the relationship between heart disease and cognitive decline in elderly women.  Researchers confirmed the association noting that “Women who’d had a heart attack, in particular, were twice as likely to see declines in their thinking and memory skills”.  Money Quote:  “Understanding the connection between heart disease and dementia is important because heart disease is reversible but Alzheimer’s disease is not, O’Brien said.”

3. What Is The Global Impact Of Dementia (CBS News.com; Jan. 4, 2014)  CBS News VIDEO discusses the global impact (including economic implications, human implications and potential therapies). Money Quote: “Where we’re really lacking – is drugs that can hit that inflammation response where the brain’s immune cells are turning against it.  We really have nothing that can help you.  Ibuprofen and current anti inflammatories won’t do it.”


4. A Daily Dose Of Vitamin E Slows Ravages Of Dementia (Daily Express – UK; Jan. 1, 2014)  For the first time, US researchers have found a benefit of adding Vitamin E to the diets of mild to moderate dementia sufferers.  Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital and the Veterans’ Administration Medical Centers in Minneapolis are reporting that “the annual rate of functional decline among dementia sufferers was reduced by 19 per cent thanks to a daily vitamin E supplement”.  This particularly study noted that those taking Vitamin E were able to carry out everyday tasks for longer periods of time.  Money Quote:  “Now that we have a strong clinical trial showing that vitamin E slows functional decline and reduces the burdens on care-givers, vitamin E should be offered to patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.”

5. The Younger Face Of Dementia: Ottawa Man Shares Wife’s Battle With The Disease (CTV news.ca- Jan. 6, 2014)  When people think of dementia they think of it as an older person’s disease, but as Matthew Dineen explains – his wife was just 41 when she began exhibiting signs of the disease.  Today, Lisa Dineen lives in the secure wing of a Ottawa nursing home, a stand-out among the elderly residents there.  A year ago she was diagnosed with FTD (Frontotemporal Dementia) a devastating brain disorder for which we know no cure.  Money Quote:  “We have people who get a divorce … their families leave them because some of them start acting very inappropriately. They don’t understand that it is a brain disease, they don’t understand that they are not doing it on purpose.”

Patented Tools Provide A Glimpse Into The World Of Alzheimers Disease

Family members and caregivers experience many things when caring for an Alzheimer’s patient.  One of the more common feelings (aside from caregiver burnout) is a high degree of frustration.  Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease can be exhausting, especially if the caregiver has little experience with Alzheimer’s issues.

A new patented training experience is helping people experience Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms, and it’s proving to be a wonderful training tool for caregivers (and family members alike).  Geriatric Specialist P.K. Bevelle (founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Second Wind Dreams) developed a sensory alteration tool which simulates the effects of “age-related cognitive or physical decline”.  In other words, it simulates what it’s like to live with a disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Volunteers are fitted with gloves, and some fingers are taped (to simulate arthritic joints, etc.).  They also get fitted with shoe implants which make it more difficult to walk.  Then the most interesting part of the simulation… Volunteers wear eye goggles (which simulate macular degeneration and/or cataracts) as well as headphones that mimic the confusing sounds that many Alzheimer’s sufferers complain of.  The results are astounding.  Simple tasks become difficult or near impossible.  Something as simple as “finding a white sweater” is an exercise in futility.

We found a dramatic video posted on YouTube, that puts P.K. Bevelle’s training tool to the test.  It’s utilized by a real caregiver (a family member to someone with Alzheimer’s disease), as well as a news reporter covering a story on caregivers.  After just 12 minutes in the virtual Alzheimer’s environment, their lives were changed forever.  Being able to relate to what Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers go through gives people a perspective they never could have imagined.  After watching this video, we hope you gain some new perspectives on caregiving,  just as we did.

Where To Turn If You Suspect Elder Abuse

Elder Abuse Resources

We’ve all heard the horror stories… Caregiver neglects 82 year old in her care.  Son spends elderly parent’s savings on liquor and motorcycles.  The list goes on and on.  Would you know where to direct someone if they suspected elder abuse?

Well we’re here to tell you!  The Administration on Aging’s National Center on Elder Abuse has a great resource that provides a state-by-state resource guide that provides hotline numbers, statewide data, and statistics pertaining to elder abuse.  Click the interactive map to link up with this valuable resource.

As always, if you have some strong suspicions, please call your local authorities!  This is an issue that is incredibly under reported.

Saying Goodbye To A Parent Or Loved One

caregiver holding handsHuffington Post is running a great article entitled “Saying Goodbye To A Parent” by Betty Londergan.  Many of us won’t have the privilege of saying goodbye because many times death can be acute, immediate and sadly… surprising.  For the lucky ones, being able to say-your-peace, and receive the same back can be incredibly fulfilling.

My husband was able to experience this with his grandfather many years ago.  His “Grandpa Joe”, a WWII veteran was dying of cancer that had spread extensively throughout his body.  He had been in and out of the VA in Spokane Washington… On and off chemotherapy…  And finally in his late 80′s he had had enough.  Weeks before he went into the VA (his final visit) my husband and his brother drove up to Spokane to spend some time with Grandpa Joe.  It was unlike any other visit they’d ever had.  The normally rough-and-tough Joe was extremely frail but still relatively lucid.  On this visit, Joe would open up about the war (he rarely if ever spoke of his year of grueling service as a medic in the war overseas), and Joe even initiated a discussion about what each grandchild had meant to him during his adult life.  Joe knew this was indeed the last visit he’s have with his grandsons.  Though I’m told the tears were at full flood stage, each of the boys (then in their 30′s) were able to share their favorite memories and thank Joe for being such a wonderful grandfather and friend over the years.  They also both (literally) said goodbye to Grandpa Joe one last time…

Being able to say goodbye, can be an incredible rewarding and fulfilling experience.  In her article, Betty Londergan calls being with a parent while they’re leaving this world “the great privilege”, and I must say I totally agree.  As a social worker, I’m around families dealing with these issues on a regular basis.  Some are good at it, and some not so much.  Most people know that in life there are no guarantees, so it’s important to take the opportunity to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.  Tell them you love them while you have the opportunity to do so in this life.  It will eliminate (or at least minimize) the “I wish I would have” notions, or the “I should have told them what they meant to me” regrets.

Have you had the “privilege” to say goodbye a loved one before they passed on? How did it go?  What would you do differently?  -Share your thoughts in the comments below

Dementia Care- From War to Grace

Aging with Grace photo“She’s ALWAYS been stubborn and it’s only gotten worse with age!”  When families care for their aging loved one a tug of war can quickly start over installing grab bars in the shower, keeping feet elevated or accepting the help of caregivers. Assumptions flare up without shedding useful light on the distinction between “will not” and “can not”. The lightning flash of judgment can blind clinicians and other care providers as well.

The elder in question may or may not have a diagnosis of dementia. Even mildly diminished mental function can derail every day tasks and stall cooperation.

Some folks have spent a lifetime resisting change and fending off help. Frustrated family members involved with such a person quickly take up their historic positions and either wage war or throw up their hands in disgust. As understandable as that may be, aging itself erodes the elder’s very foundation. It’s a new game now.  Wise and effective  families consider normal mental aging, physical/medical health and learn about dementia in an effort to find a fresh approach.

Normal mental aging introduces a new set of obstacles for the aging adult. Complex tasks take longer to understand and produce a response, the elder is more easily distracted, and hearing and vision may scramble input. Given all of these changes, errors are common; those errors are alarming to everyone.

Underlying medical disorders and pain can introduce additional corrosive factors that undermine cooperation. Shortness of breath, episodes of dizziness or fatigue as well as the ongoing fear of losing control of their bladder or bowels can be unrecognized distractions that further stall the elder’s ability to accept new equipment, learn a new task or make changes to their routine.

With the onset of dementia the very bedrock of mental function gives way. In some cases there is a slow decline; in others, as with a stroke for example, the damage can be sudden. That battle over grab bars or accepting a caregiver is fueled by much more than simple stubbornness. It requires a fresh approach.

It can be helpful to take an inventory of the physical, medical and emotional challenges the elder has to face each day. What kind of “vehicle” is the elder trying to “drive”?

A person who battles infection, medication side effects, sleep loss and pain has very specific and variable needs. A person who can’t hear, can’t see and can’t feel things accurately will, at the very least, be distracted and will certainly have problems with daily tasks. Poor vision and hearing result in poor memory – regardless of any underlying dementing process – junk in is junk out.

Consider emotional health next. Hopefully elders who have lived with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders and the like will receive appropriate services. Depression has a serious impact on cognition and may respond well to medication and non-pharmaceutical treatment. Elders who have experienced the loss of their home, a life partner or pet may be aching and distracted with grief.

So the “car” the elder is “driving” may be quite a clunker! The emotional state of the “driver” may at times feel like they are locked in a cell with a blaring radio and screaming kids or at other times imprisoned inside chilling darkness.

What about the mental resources of this imagined “driver”? How well is their cognitive equipment working? Most people associate dementia with memory loss, but impaired cognition involves so much more: perception, attention, judgment, problem solving, use of numbers, language and learning. Dementia damages all of these mental tools.

Even before dementia is diagnosed many elements of cognition may not be working well. The elder may always have had trouble with judgment, impulse control, problem solving and learning. Age, along with years of alcohol/drug abuse and injury, will strain already weak systems.

Perceptual damage often lurks unrecognized. Perception, the meaning the brain makes of sensory input, is an essential foundation to attention and memory. This delicate network of brain function requires specific testing; simple observation does not reliably detect impairments.

When perception is healthy, we can tell the difference between wet and icy and the difference between a motor and a bell. We can reach into our pocket and find our keys, leaving the coins behind. When perception is damaged, the very foundation of every experience falls apart in unpredictable ways.

Is the demented elder faced with “driving” an unpredictable and temperamental “wreck” of a body? Is that task complicated by episodes of fear, grief, voices, energy highs and lows? Do they know what is going on around them? Can they follow verbal instructions? Do they recognize hazards? Can they solve problems or get help? No doubt the answers to these questions will change with dementia’s inevitable decline.

The elder’s previous history and current challenges may dishearten even the most intrepid helper. Don’t be discouraged. Here is an important key: don’t introduce anything new by talking about it. Just bring the new bathroom grab bar or new foot rest or new caregiver and put it in place with the invitation to “try it for a week and then we can take it out if you don’t like it”. Plant the seed and nurture its growth.

A special grace comes with using something or someone that meets a need – you just have to get it planted so it can take root and flourish.

The 10 Early Signs Of Alzheimer’s Disease

A special report published recently by the Alzheimer’s Association, noted; “An Alzheimer's disease facts and figuresestimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease in 2012.  This figure includes 5.2 million people age 65 and older and 200,000 individuals age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.”  According to CNN this number is expected to rise to 16 million by 2050!

The Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) has published a list of warning signs and symptoms of someone suspected of Alzheimer’s Disease.  This is an important list, and we’d encourage you to pass it along to others that may need this valuable resource.  Knowing the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, can help keep you (or your loved one) out of trouble should these signs start to occur more regularly.

“The 10 Early Signs Of Alzheimer’s Disease”

  1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Daily Life (like forgetting names and appointments and remembering them later)
  2. Challenges In Planning Or Solving Problems (like making errors when paying bills or balancing a checkbook)
  3. Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks At Home, At Work Or At Leisure (like occasionally needing help with the settings on an oven or DVD player)
  4. Confusion With Time Or Place (like getting confused about the day of the week, and remembering later)
  5. Trouble Understanding Visual Images & Spatial Relationships (like difficulty reading or differentiating colors)
  6. New Problems With Words In Speaking Or Writing (like having trouble finding the right word to use in conversation)
  7. Misplacing Things & Losing The Ability To Retrace Steps (like misplacing something and retracing steps to find it)
  8. Decreased Or Poor Judgment (like giving money to telemarketers)
  9. Withdrawal From Work Or Social Activities (like not attending events with friends)
  10. Changes In Mood & Personality (like becoming easily irritable)

“Studies presented at the (2011 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease) conference reinforced the notion that signs of Alzheimer’s may develop in the brain 10 to 20 years before any symptoms begin.” -CNN Health

The Senior List Check MarkIf you or anyone you know is experiencing any number of these signs you should consult with medical personnel immediately.  For further information and a thorough explanation of each of the symptoms above, visit alz.org.

Also Read:

A Letter From a Mother To Her Daughter (very touching)

Find a Caregiver Support Group

Your Mom Has Dementia… How Do You Keep Her Safe?

Mom Has Dementia; How Do I Keep Her Safe?

Dementia Safety Precautions

“Mary” posted a question to an on-line caregiver-group that I want to share with all of you:

“How do I keep my parent, who’s suffering from dementia, safe while I’m at work?” – Mary

Here are some suggestions from the Alzheimer’s Association brochure, “Staying Safe”:

  • Be sure to have working fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in the house.  Test them regularly.
  • If you are out of the home during the day, use appliances with an auto shut-off feature, such as coffee pots.
  • Install a hidden gas valve or circuit breaker on the stove so your loved one can’t turn it on.  You can also consider removing the knobs when you leave the house.
  • Store grills, lawn mowers, power tools, knives, firearms and cleaning products in a secure (that means locked) place.
  • Discard toxic plants and decorative fruit that may be mistaken for real food.
  • Store medications, vitamins, and other dietary supplements in a locked cupboard.  Remove sugar substitutes and seasonings from kitchen tables and counters.
  • Supervise the use of tobacco and alcohol.  Both may interact dangerously with your patient’s medications.

thumbs upDementia & Wandering

More than 60 percent of dementia patients will wander.  The danger is that they can become lost and die before they’re found.  The Alzheimer’s Association recommends the use of their MedicAlert-Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program.  There are other, similar programs available, which you can find on-line.

Even if your dementia patient is equipped with one of these tracking devices, prevention is still the best plan:

  • Short term memory loss can cause anxiety and confusion in a place that’s large or contains lots of people, such as the market, a theater, a restaurant, a shopping mall or sports venue.  That confusion can cause patients to wander off in search of something that will quiet their sense of panic.  The best strategy is to keep away from places that will induce this behavior.
  • Be on alert for wandering if your loved one wants to “go to work” or “go home,” if he or she is restless or has a hard time locating familiar place in the home such as the bedroom or bathroom.
  • Other ways to prevent wandering include placing deadbolt locks on exterior doors either high or low, and controlling access to the car keys.

One of the best things you can do when your patients are showing signs of anxiety which may lead to wandering is to give them plenty of assurance that you will not leave them alone.  Try distracting them by giving them repetitive tasks, like folding laundry or helping prepare dinner.

Keeping your dementia patient safe is really a matter of being aware of their reactions and anticipating problems before they actually occur.

Blessings, Joanne

*photo - freedigitalphotos.net

Dementia Patients And Wandering

caregiver holding handsAccording to the Alzheimer’s Association, six of every 10 dementia patients will wander.  When they do, their lives are at risk.   And yet, how many of you caregivers of (elderly) dementia patients are prepared to deal with the reality of this dangerous potential?

Too often, I hear a statement like “Well dad hasn’t tried to wander off yet, so we don’t need to worry about that right now.”  The problem is that there’s no way to know when dad will wander off.  It makes sense to be proactive to prevent wandering rather than wait for disaster to strike.

A recent story in the LA Times reported a 92-year-old dementia patient whose family was in denial about the possibility of him wandering.  When he did, he was lost for nearly 24 hours.  The story had a happy ending when he was found, tired, hungry and dehydrated, but safe.  Sadly, not all of the stories end that way.

In this case, the family was convinced that even though their loved one was suffering from dementia, he wouldn’t wander.  They all went to dinner in a large restaurant and let him go to the restroom alone.  He didn’t come back. “He kind of has dementia,” said one of his relatives.  “He might not have remembered that he was with us or where he was.”

Oh brother.  Without dealing with the denial of reality (in those statements), let’s just focus on the fact that as a person with dementia, he has significant short-term memory loss.  He can be easily confused in surroundings where there are large groups of unfamiliar people.  Obviously he couldn’t remember he was with family in the large and unfamiliar restaurant.  And likewise, he didn’t know where he was… so he went in search of “home.”

“He kind of has dementia” – (Family member of wandering dementia patient)

Don’t wait until something like this happens to your loved one.  Take action now.

The Alzheimer’s Association (1-800-272-3900) has some terrific information to help you make sure your loved one will stay safe.  In addition, there are now tracking devices, smartphones, dumb phones, and apps for seniors that can be tracked from your smart phone, tablet or computer.  Type “tracking devices for dementia patients” into your search engine and you’ll be amazed at the number of products that are available.

Blessings, Joanne

Exercise May Improve Dementia and Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

Alzheimer's Association International Conference Logo

The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference

More and more studies are showing a relationship between cognitive function and exercise.  New results from clinical trials were reported recently at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in Vancouver BC.  Four (4) studies noted a reduced risk factor when targeted exercise was implemented as part of a regimen.The first study noted that moderate walking may enhance the region of the brain related to memory, and increase the nerve growth factor.  Kirk Erickson, PhD from the University of Pittsburgh noted that ”the aging brain remains modifiable, and that sedentary older adults can benefit from starting a moderate walking regimen”.  The study reported an increase in the brain region identified with memory (in those that exercised).

The second study from the University of British Columbia examined the effect of resistance training on thinking and memory in older adults.  This study entitled the EXCEL (Exercise for Cognition and Everyday Living) study looked at resistance training vs. balance and tone exercises and found that the more rigorous resistance training led to improvements related to memory and other outcomes (vs the balance and tone group).

Two additional studies reported found similar results.  The bottom line?  Exercise is good (for everybody)… Especially older adults at risk for MCI (mild cognitive impairment).

For more information visit the Alzheimer’s Association or visit the AAIC 2012 homepage.

Caregiver Tips For Treating Dementia Patients: Flash Cards

One of the most painful realities for dementia caregivers is the loss of recognition.  As memory erodes, the patient loses the ability to recognize those most dear to them such as spouses, children, and siblings.  Michelle Bourgeois, a speech-pathology professor at Ohio State University has come up with a system that allows caregivers to bridge that communication gap, at least temporarily.  She advises caregivers to use flash cards to help ease those identity issues and answer the questions which dementia patients will repeat endlessly.

For instance, Bourgeois had a caregiver create two flashcards .  One had a photo of herself as a child, which she labeled “This is my daughter Susan, at age 6.”  The second card had a photo of her at her current age.  That one was labeled “This is my daughter Susan now.”  The woman showed the cards to her mother, who had lost the ability to know who her daughter was.  The mother studied the two photos and captions and was able to recognize her daughter and converse with her as her daughter and not as some vaguely familiar stranger.

One had a photo of herself as a child, which she labeled “This is my daughter Susan, at age 6.”  The second card had a photo of her at her current age.  That one was labeled “This is my daughter Susan now.”

Bourgeois advises caregivers to use similar systems to provide answers to the obsessively repeated questions.  When the asking begins, the caregiver can hand the card to the patient and say, “The answer is on the card.”  She reports that in the majority of case, it calms the patient and the questioning stops.  One key to using this system to bridge the communications gap is to be sure that the print on the card is large and easy to read, and that whatever is printed is a short, simple sentence.

Blessings, Joanne

 *Photo: Rasdourian via Flickr