Alzheimer’s Experts Study Controllable Risk Factors

Scientists at the 2014 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference emphasize lifestyle factors.

Each year, leading experts on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders meet at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, which is the world’s largest gathering of leading researchers, who present the latest information on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of memory and cognitive disorders.

This information is of interest to anyone concerned about brain health, including older adults and families of people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease. This year, several new studies shed light on risk reduction strategies:

Mentally Stimulating Activities Promote Brain Health

A number of previous studies have suggested that puzzles, games and other activities that make our brains work a little harder could also protect our memory and thinking. Researchers from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center presented the results of a study that adds to this understanding.

The scientists studied a group of people at higher risk of Alzheimer’s due to a family history of the disease and/or the APOe4 gene, which is associated with higher risk. They found that the people who often played games, read books or went to museums had greater brain volume in several important regions. According to researcher Stephanie Schultz, “Our findings suggest that for some individuals, engagement in cognitively stimulating activities, especially involving games such as puzzles and cards, might be a useful approach for preserving brain structures and cognitive functions that are vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Moderate Exercise and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

The Alzheimer’s Association says that of all the lifestyle choices we can make, exercise is the best-documented way to promote brain health. At the conference, Mayo Clinic researchers reported the results of a study that specifically looked at the relationship between mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and exercise. Mild cognitive impairment is a condition that causes slight changes in memory and thinking. It may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s.

The research team, led by Dr. Yonas Geda, reported that physical exercise in midlife and later life was associated with a reduced risk of MCI. They also found that in people who already have MCI, those with a history of moderate exercising during the ages of 50 – 65 had a “significantly decreased” risk of progressing to dementia. Dr. Geda said, “In our studies, we found that physical exercise at various levels, especially in mid-life, is beneficial for cognitive function. These are intriguing results, but they are not yet conclusive. More research is needed to determine the extent and nature of physical activity in protecting against MCI and dementia.”

Brain-Healthy Lifestyle Choices Work Together

There are some risk factors that we can’t do anything about—but certain brain-healthy lifestyle choices are under our control. A team of researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland noted that individual studies have looked at the protective effect of individual modifiable risk factors, such as diet, exercise, socialization, social activities and management of heart disease. The team decided to look at the collective effect of all those factors. They studied a group of people age 60 to 77, and reported that those who were encouraged to follow a full set of brain-healthy lifestyle choices performed better on cognitive tests two years later. At the Conference, study author Dr. Miia Kivipelto said, “This is the first randomized control trial showing that it is possible to prevent cognitive decline using a multi-domain intervention among older at-risk individuals.” Kivipelto also noted that the study participants found the experience positive, and only 11 percent dropped out of the study during the two-year period.

These studies are yet another reminder about how important it is to take care of our own health! No matter what your age, take advantage of support resources in your community that can help you get the exercise, mental stimulation, regular healthcare, healthy eating and other activities that lower your own risk.

Source: AgeWise reporting on news releases from the Alzheimer’s Association. Read more about the 2014 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference here [add link to: http://www.alz.org/aaic/about/highlights.asp]

Memory Slower? You’re Processing a Lifetime of Information!

Older adults have always joked that it takes them longer to remember things because they must sort through their years of knowledge to find the right answer. They might say something like, “My brain is too full!”

Is this true? Research recently appearing in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/tops.12078/abstract] described the work of linguistics researchers who are using computers to demonstrate that, indeed, the “full brain” of seniors is the most common cause of slower memory and slower performance on certain memory-related tests.

The study team, headed by Dr. Michael Ramscar of the University of Tübingen in Germany, put computers to the test by loading them with information to simulate the increased knowledge of human seniors. Would computers experience a “senior moment”? According to the researchers, when the computer sorted through a small amount of information, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of younger humans. But, say the researchers, “When the same computer was exposed to the experiences we might encounter over a lifetime, its performance looked like that of an older adult. Often it was slower, not because processing capacity had declined. Rather, increased ‘experience’ had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process—which takes time.”

The researchers say that standard memory tests may not yield an accurate picture of an older adult’s memory health. They explain that older brains not only have more memories to sift through, but also more chances to forget things.

The team also examined a classic memory lapse many seniors worry about: forgetting names. They remind us that the more people we meet in life or read about, the more names we need to sort through and remember. And seniors of today, take heart: The researchers also reported that it is harder now than it was two generations ago to connect faces to names, due to a much greater diversity in names today. They say, “The number of names anyone learns over their lifetime has increased dramatically. This work shows how this makes locating a name in memory far harder than it used to be. Even for computers.”

Of course, not all memory loss is benign. It’s important to know the signs that might indicate a problem. According to the National Institute on Aging, these are some symptoms that indicate that a person should consult their healthcare provider:

  • Asking the same question over and over
  • Becoming lost in places that are familiar
  • Not being able to follow directions
  • Becoming more confused about time, people and places
  • Neglecting personal safety, hygiene and nutrition

These symptoms might indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other serious memory loss. Or they could result from a fortunately treatable cause such as medication side effects, infections, nutritional deficiencies, depression or alcohol abuse. No matter what the cause, early diagnosis is important.

Meanwhile, seniors who are experiencing normal age-related changes of memory should take these words of Dr. Ramscar to heart: “The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more.” Given that age-related stereotypes have been shown to trigger depression and inactivity, this understanding is great ammunition for combating the clichés that slow us down!

Learn More

The National Institute on Aging offers the free booklet, “Understanding Memory Loss: What To Do When You Have Trouble Remembering,” [link to: http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/understanding-memory-loss/introduction] that explains the difference between mild forgetfulness and more serious memory problems.

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from Tubingen University.

Your Pet May Be Disturbing Your Sleep, Says Mayo Clinic

Rest assured, there may be a good reason you’re dog-tired.

While countless pet owners peacefully sleep with a warm pet nearby, a new Mayo Clinic study, presented in June at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, finds an increase in the number of people experiencing sleep disturbances because of their pets.

A previous Mayo Clinic study published in 2002 reported that of patients who visited the clinic’s sleep center and owned pets, only one percent reported any inconvenience from their pets at night. The new study shows a larger number of patients—10 percent in 2013—reported annoyance that their pets sometimes disturbed their sleep.

“The study determined that while the majority of patients did not view their pets intolerably disturbing their sleep, a higher percentage of patients experienced irritation—this may be related to the larger number of households with multiple pets,” says Lois Krahn, M.D., Mayo Clinic psychiatrist and author of the study. “When people have these kinds of sleep problems, sleep specialists should ask about companion animals and help patients think about ways to optimize their sleep.”

Between August and December 2013, 110 consecutive patients at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine in Arizona provided information about pets at night as part of a comprehensive sleep questionnaire. Questions covered the type and number of pets, where the animals slept, any notable behaviors and whether the patient was disturbed. The survey showed that 46 percent of the patients had pets and 42 percent of those had more than one pet. The most popular pets were dogs, cats and birds.

The disturbances by pets that patients reported included snoring, whimpering, wandering, the need to “go outside” and medical needs.

“One patient owned a parrot who consistently squawked at 6 a.m.,” Dr. Krahn says. “He must have thought he was a rooster.”

Source: Mayo Clinic

Home Care Helps Seniors Manage Medications

The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that the percentage of seniors who are living in a nursing home has dropped by 20 percent in the last decade—yet there are more seniors than ever, and the number is growing. Are seniors just healthier these days? The truth is, older adults need as much care as ever, but more of them are receiving it in assisted living communities, adult day centers—and for a growing number, in their own homes.

Most seniors would prefer to receive care in the comfort and familiar surroundings of their own home. Yet many have trouble with the activities of daily living and managing their healthcare, and that includes their medications. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the number of older adults hospitalized due to medication-related problems has doubled over the last decade, and the number is rising as the baby boomers age. For many seniors, the ability to manage their medications may be the deciding factor when they and their families are making the decision between home and an institutional care setting.

Medicines play an important part in senior health. They are beneficial in controlling many of the diseases and conditions that older adults experience, such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart disease.

But medications, whether prescribed by a doctor or bought over the counter, have potentially toxic side effects that can cause significant problems. For example, it is not at all uncommon for families to suspect dementia or depression in an older adult, when the symptoms are actually caused by undesirable effects from prescription drugs. Medication problems can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Undesirable effects of medications may be caused by:

  • Negative side effects of a drug
  • Interaction between one or more drugs
  • Overdose from taking too much of a single medication
  • Overmedication when two drugs work in a similar way
  • Changes in the way an older person’s body reacts to and processes certain drugs that allow a toxic level to build up.

Overmedication isn’t the only problem: if a senior misses doses, the drug may not be as effective.

Often, medication management problems result from the complexity of juggling a variety of drugs for various conditions. Compound the issue with multiple prescriptions, different times to take them, different ways they should be taken, and it’s easy to see why medication compliance is so complicated. Seniors living with memory problems are even more likely to take an extra dose or skip a dose.

Families worry about their older loved one’s ability to take prescriptions correctly. There are some relatively simple safeguards to take. Family can:

  • Help their loved one make a list of all medications and bring the list (or the medication containers) to their loved one’s doctor for a periodic review of all prescriptions.
  • Check their loved one’s medicine chest for old prescriptions that are no longer needed or have expired.
  • Help their loved one contact the healthcare provider if there are signs of bad side effects, such as a rash, headaches, drowsiness, dizziness or nausea.
  • Encourage their loved one to use a single pharmacy for all prescriptions so the pharmacist can help avoid drug interactions.

But when it comes to the daily monitoring of a medication regimen, families may feel helpless, wondering whether their parent is following the doctor’s recommendations. They worry when they aren’t around, and wonder if the senior is safe taking the medications properly. This is where home care can fill in the gap, providing an extra measure of safety and peace of mind.

Skilled nursing services can be provided in the home, including medication administration. Less costly personal care and companion services may also include certain medication support tasks, depending on state law. Caregivers can:

  • Remind senior clients to take medications on time and in the way they are supposed to be taken
  • Take clients to the pharmacy, or pick up prescriptions
  • Observe and report problems that might suggest side effects
  • Help senior clients learn to use pill organizers, dispensers, automatic reminders or other devices.

Medication management is just one of the many ways that home care workers can help seniors maintain their independence, and help family caregivers go about their daily tasks with confidence, knowing their loved one is safe.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2014

It’s Never Too Late to Start an Exercise Program

Study after study shows that physical activity is the top factor influencing how healthy we will be in later life. While there are no 100 percent guarantees when it comes to good health, we know that exercise helps us maintain physical, emotional and intellectual well-being—factors that work together to protect us from many common diseases and conditions that become more common as we age.

Recently, researchers from the University of Western Australia released results of study that demonstrates this benefit. They studied 12,000 elderly Australian men over the course of 13 years, and found that those who took part in 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week added two to three years to their lives—and those years were healthier, more independent years.

Lead author Prof. Osvaldo Almeida said, “Not only were the active people more likely than non-active people to survive, but those who were alive and active when we followed up had reached old age in good shape, without evidence of depression or cognitive or functional problems.”

Is it ever too late to take up exercise? Some of the study participants who had been inactive most of their lives took up exercise during the follow-up period. Reports Prof. Almeida, “Those who started out inactive but became more active as time went by benefited as well. Not as much as the ones who were active at the beginning and the end, but quite a bit more than those who were inactive throughout.”

What if we turn into couch potatoes later on? Prof. Almeida found that the men who were active at the beginning of the study but let their exercise routine lapse over the years all but lost the health benefits of their previous activity. He says, “It’s better to become active than to be active and stop. By engaging in regular physical activity, older people not only survive longer, but they ensure that the chance of them aging successfully—without significant functional impairments—also increases. Not only do they add years to life, but they add quality to their years.”

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from University of Western Australia

Another Reason to Get Your Flu Shot

Did you get your flu shot yet? If you are older than 65, it’s especially important to be vaccinated. By doing so, you’ll make it less likely that you will spend a miserable week or so with congestion, fever and body aches—and, you might also be protecting your heart!

Seniors are at higher risk of serious complications from seasonal influenza. These include pneumonia and other infections that can lead to disability and even death. A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms an especially dangerous complication: the flu raises the risk of heart failure and hospitalization for heart attack.

A research team headed Dr. Jacob Udell of the University of Toronto followed the health of 3,238 patients who received the flu vaccine, and 3,231 who were not immunized. They found that those who were vaccinated were 33 percent less likely to have an adverse cardiovascular event—and the protection was even stronger strong in patients who already were suffering from heart disease.

Dr. Udell calls for more research on the connection between flu vaccine and heart disease, calling the flu shot a “low-cost, annual, safe, easily administered and well-tolerated therapy to reduce cardiovascular risk.”

In an editorial accompanying Dr. Udell’s report, Dr. Kathleen M. Neuzil of PATH, Seattle, calls for policies to increase vaccination. She suggests that the vaccine be offered in more locations—not just at drugstores or the doctor’s office. She also strongly suggests that physicians recommend the flu vaccination for patients. She says, “While few are in a position to develop new influenza vaccines, all health care practitioners can recommend influenza vaccine to their patients. Doing so will help achieve the goal of 100 percent vaccination.”

Click here to watch a brief video about Dr. Udell and his study.

Visit www.Flu.gov to find information about flu and older adults and the recommendations for flu season 2014-15.
Source: AgeWise reporting on news release from the Journal of the American Medical Association

How Do Seniors Choose Among Their Medicare Plan Options?

Seniors appreciate having a wide range of Medicare private plan choices available to them but often feel unqualified to choose among them, a new Kaiser Family Foundation report concludes. Based on discussions with seniors in four cities around the country, the report captures seniors’ experiences and frustrations in making decisions about their Medicare plans.

Seniors cite many factors as influencing their initial choice of a Part D or Medicare Advantage plan, including premiums, benefits, out-of-pocket costs, brand recognition (i.e., AARP) and adequate coverage for their health care needs, including coverage for their specific medications and, for Medicare Advantage plans, access to desired physicians and hospitals.

However, many seniors say the initial process of comparing and choosing plans was not easy due to the large volume of information they receive and their inability to compare plan features to determine which option is best for them. Few used the government’s online comparison tool, and those that did cite several shortcomings. Many relied on advice from sources they trust, including insurance agents, plan representatives, friends, family members, medical professionals and pharmacists.

After they enroll in a plan, many seniors are reluctant to revisit their initial decision and switch plans, even when premiums go up, because of frustration and confusion during their initial selection process and because of fears about disrupting their care or increasing out-of-pocket costs. They lack confidence in their ability to choose a plan that would be appreciatively better for them.

“How are Seniors Choosing and Changing Health Insurance Plans?” was based on focus-group discussions with seniors in Baltimore, Md.; Seattle, Wash.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Tampa, Fla.; and is authored by researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation and PerryUndem Research and Communication.

The report’s findings were discussed as part of a policy briefing in Washington, D.C.. Watch a video of the archived webcast of the briefing here. [add link to: http://kff.org/medicare/event/may-13-briefing-how-well-are-seniors-making-choices-among-medicares-private-plans-and-does-it-matter]. Click here to read the full report [link to: http://kff.org/medicare/report/how-are-seniors-choosing-and-changing-health-insurance-plans].

Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.

 

Helping Someone Move to a Long-Term Care Facility

Moving to a long term care facility is often difficult for an older adult. But there are many things family members and friends can do to reduce the physical and emotional stresses involved. They can help plan the move, participate on the day of the move, and provide love and support after the move.

Moving to a nursing home is an important long term care option for many older or disabled adults. Sometimes, a person moves to a nursing facility because the care they need just isn’t available or practical at home. Or, they may have special rehabilitative care needs after leaving the hospital, but before they return home.

Whatever the circumstances, there are a few simple steps you and other family members and friends can take to help the person you care for make a smooth, hassle-free transition to new surroundings.

Before the Move

Moving to a long-term care facility usually means making do with less space than the person is used to. Long-term care residents have the right to keep and use items of personal property, to the extent space permits. But space is almost always in short supply. So choices may have to be made about what to take along…and what to leave behind. Friends and family can help by:

  • Learning from the facility exactly what space limitations apply
  • Helping prepare for the move, including arranging for storage or other disposition of items left behind
  • Discussing the facility’s policies for safeguarding resident property; for example, you may be advised to mark all clothing and personal belongings with the person’s name, and to make (or helping the resident or facility make) a list of the resident’s things
  • Anticipating and responding to special concerns, such as care for a pet.

On the Day of the Move

Moving to a new home is always stressful. You can help minimize feelings of disorientation and dislocation by:

  • Helping your loved one unpack…and making sure that pictures, personal mementos and other similar items are placed where they will create a feeling of home
  • Sharing a meal at the new facility
  • Getting to know staff members  and learning about all the various programs, services, and activities the facility has to offer
  • Spending some quiet time after everything is unpacked to make sure your family member or friend is as comfortable, relaxed, and reassured as possible.

After the Move    

When people move to a care facility, they often fear that the move will come between them and people and activities they love. They may worry about being alone and out of touch. It may take some time and effort to get over these concerns, to be reassured by the support of loved ones, to make new friends, and to settle into new and interesting patterns of living. You can help by:

  • Staying in touch right from the beginning…communicating frequently and positively
  • Working closely with your loved one and staff to make sure any difficulties are ironed out
  • Establishing regular visiting times so your loved one can plan ahead for them
  • Making a few surprise visits as well
  • Visiting individually or as a family group for special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries
  • Attending care conferences and family support groups
  • Working with your loved one and staff to make the new living situation a happy, successful one.

15 Great Ways to Help Your Loved One Feel Connected

  1. Send flowers or balloons on a special day.
  2. Write frequent cards, notes or e-mail.
  3. Give a prepaid, senior-friendly cell phone or calling card.
  4. Set up Skype chats with your loved one
  5. Visit as often as you can.
  6. Send pictures or videos of family events, grandchildren, or friends.
  7. Bring a card or small gift when you visit.
  8. Get to know the resident’s new friends and care providers, and greet them during your visits.
  9. Check to see what types of food items would be appropriate as a gift, and include them occasionally when you visit.
  10. Remember to acknowledge and thank members of staff whenever appropriate.
  11. Offer to take along other long-time friends, so they can visit also.
  12. Go for a stroll outside if weather permits.
  13. Take the resident on a day trip, or come along on a resident outing.
  14. Inform friends, family and your loved one’s faith community of their new contact information.
  15. Become a volunteer in your loved one’s new home.

Source: AgeWise