Alzheimer’s Disease: Warning Signs, Prevention and Treatment

April 18, 2011 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S, Featured

Alzheimer’s disease is a serious condition that slowly destroys the brain. It begins by breaking down a person’s short term memory and spreads to other brain functions. It spreads through the brain and robs the victim of logic and language. In the later stages the victim loses emotional control, and long term memories. In the final stage the brain is unable to direct bodily functions, which leads to death. Tragically, there is no cure at present and its early symptoms are often ignored or misdiagnosed.

What Causes It

Medical researchers have yet to find the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. There are many different factors that seem to play a role in its development:

  • Genetic make-up can sometimes be a cause.  Generally, if it is something that runs within the family, you are at a higher risk of having it when you are older.
  • There are many different environmental faactors that may contribute to this disease as well. 

·         Age is one the biggest factors.  As you get older, your chances are drastically greater for having this disease. 

While these are all factors that can play a part in Alzheimer’s disease, you may find that even if neither of these factors relate to you that you can still find yourself with the disease. 

The Warning Signs

As with any disease or illness, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  If you have a full understanding of it, then you will be more likely to notice if you or a loved one is experiencing the early signs. 

  • Early in the disease, you may find that you are more forgetful than you used to be.
  • Some people may begin to ask the same questions repeatedly. 
  • In more severe cases, they may begin to not realize who they are or where they live. 

These situations can all be very scary.  It is important to be aware of these signs early on so that you can do things that will help to slow down the progression of this disease. 

Prevention

There is no definite way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but research suggests that a healthy, active lifestyle can delay the onset of symptoms.  That being said, here are a few things that may help:

  • Stay active. There appears to be a very strong link between poor cardiovascular health and Alzheimer’s disease. Get regular aerobic exercise.
  • Keep your body height and weight proportionate.  Studies show that overweight people are more likely to get this disease.
  • Eat a balanced diet with a lot of fresh vegetables.

Treating the Disease

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, there are some things that you can do to treat it and help keep the symptoms at bay. 

·         Visit the doctor frequently for medications that will help to slow the progression. 

·         Make sure that you have adequate help from others as you cope with the disease. 

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

The early stages of the disease require monitoring the patient to make sure they stay safe. If he or she lives alone you should install a medical alert system in the home so that help can be summoned quickly. A person with Alzheimer’s may be too confused to use a telephone and these devices make it easy for them to call for assistance.

As the disease progresses the patient will require more supervision. You may need to hire a home health care worker to help provide round the clock care.  Caring for a person with the disease requires lots of energy, skill and diligence. People with the disease can easily wander away from home so make sure you have your home modified to prevent the patient from leaving the house unnoticed. Consider a GPS system that can help find the victim quickly.

About The Author

Marie Clark writes about senior health issues at ElderKind.com where you can read reviews of health care products and services like medical alerts, home health care providers and assisted living,

Obesity leads to brain tissue loss

August 27, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

brainMore bad news on the obesity problem. It is not only your heart that suffers from the extra pounds, it’s your brain as well. American researchers who initially looked at the cardiovascular effects of excess weight in the Cardiovascular Health Cognition study also took brain images of some patients. The researchers looked at 94 seniors in their 70s who did not exhibit any cognitive impairment. They were followed up five years after the brain scans were taken and checked for general, including body mass index (BMI). The participants were then classified as

  • Normal weight = BMI of 18.5 to 25
  • Overweight = BMI of 25 to 30
  • Obese = BMI of above 30

The study results showed that the excess weight can lead to loss in tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, areas of the brain critical for planning and memory. Specifically

  • Overweight individuals had 4% less brain tissue compared to those with normal weight.
  • Obese individuals had 8% less brain tissue.

According to Dr. Paul Thompson, senior author and a UCLA professor of neurology

“That’s a big loss of tissue and it depletes your cognitive reserves, putting you at much greater risk of Alzheimer’s and other diseases that attack the brain.”

Brain degeneration was evident in other areas of the brain of overweight and obese participants as well, namely:

  • anterior cingulate gyrus, the area for attention and executive functions
  • hippocampus, the area of long-term memory
  • basal ganglia, the area regulating movement
  • corona radiata, the white matter comprised of axons
  • parietal or sensory lobe

Thompson describes:

“The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than the brains of those who were lean, and in overweight people looked eight years older.”

Current estimates from the World Health Organization put the number of obese people worldwide at more than 300 million. Those who are overweight number about 2 billion.

Obesity has been linked to increased risk for chronic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The current study is one of the very first to show that obesity also damages the brain. However, there is an upside to the findings. The areas of the brain loss affected by obesity are also areas that are targeted by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This could suggest that excess weight is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, a risk factor that can be altered by changes in lifestyle, changes for the better. This means that being active, eating healthy and keeping weight under control can reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s. By keeping fit, we are protection our heart as well as our brain.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Married at midlife: lowering your risk for dementia

July 7, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

married-handsSocial life is important for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as many research studies have reported. A more recent study pinpointed something even more specific – that patients who are married or living with a partner at midlife have a much lower risk of developing dementia later in life. The research was conducted by Swedish researchers on more than 2000 Finnish adults.

Furthermore, the increase in risk seems to be dependent on the type of singlehood. The researchers reported that:

  • People who were single during their entire adult life were two more likely to develop some form of dementia compared to married or partnered people of similar age.
  • People who were married but were divorced at middle age have a three-fold increase in risk.
  • Those who were windowed or suffered through the death of a partner have an even higher risk for Alzheimer’s – almost 6 times higher than their married counterparts.

According to author Krister Håkansson of the well-known Karolinska Institute in Sweden “This suggests two influencing factors — social and intellectual stimulation and trauma. In practice, it shows how important it is to put resources into helping people who have undergone a crisis. If our interpretation holds, such an intervention strategy could also be profitable for society considering the costs for dementia care.”

So what does marriage and partnership have to do with cognitive decline?

Researchers believe that partnership and marriage provide social as well as intellectual stimulation that keep the brain functioning even in old age. The next step is to look into the effect of other types of relationships (children, grandchildren peer support groups) and the quality of the relationships (happy or not happy):

Previous studies have shown that an active social life help keep the mind and the memory sharp late in life. A study by Harvard researchers revealed that those who have the most social interaction within their social circle, be it with friends or family showed the slowest rate of memory decline.

These results give some important insights on currents standard of care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. In addition, it gives people who are approaching the middle age a strategy to counteract the cognitive decline that comes with age.

Pain relievers: do they or do they not prevent Alzheimers?

June 25, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

old_man_and_dovesPrevious studies have reported that pain relievers such as the anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This study by American researchers, however, shows a different story.

The researchers looked at 2,736 members of Group Health, an integrated healthcare delivery system, who did not have any form of dementia when they were enrolled in the study. The average age of the study group was 75 years. The researchers then tracked these patient for 12 years, monitored their use of NSAIDs, both as prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and their likelihood of developing dementia especially Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study group, 351 participants had a history of heavy NSAID use at the start of the study. Over the follow up period, another 107 participants became heavy NSAID users. “Heavy use was defined as having prescriptions for NSAIDs at least 68 percent of the time in two years.

The results of the monitoring for dementia gave the following results:

  • 476 participants developed Alzheimer’s disease or dementia during the study period.
  • Heavy NSAID users were 66% more likely to develop dementia compared to those who use little or no NSAID.

According to study author Dr. Eric B. Larson, executive director of Group Health Center for Health Studies.

“Although we hoped to find a protective effect, there was none. Thus, for this age group, there’s no basis for taking NSAIDs to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Our study in this quite elderly population showed more risk of dementia with NSAIDs, especially when used heavily.”

The study results indicate a need to re-evaluate earlier research findings that suggested that NSAID use can delay or even prevent onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

There were, of course, key differences between previous studies and this study. For one thing, the study participants in this study are on average older. This could have a big influence on the results considering that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are basically an elderly disease, even though there are cases of early onset.

NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen are available over-the-counter are popularly used as anti-fever drugs and pain relievers. In the older population, NSAIDs, marketed in the US as Advil, Motrin and Aleve, are used as pain relievers especially among those who suffer from arthritis. Recently, the US FDA has issued new labelling requirements for OTC drugs including NSAIDs, which should provide warnings about safety, including interaction between NSAIDs and alcohol.

 

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Your brain needs good cholesterol, too!

June 11, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

brainIt is well-known that high blood cholesterol levels are not good for the heart. Is is also quite known that high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) – the bad type of cholesterol – can build up and block arteries and adversely affect cardiovascular health.

What is not so well-known is the fact that low levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) – the good type of cholesterol – is linked to memory loss and increased risk for dementia. This is according to a study by European researchers.

It seems that cholesterol levels are important not only for heart health but for brain health as well.

The study followed up 3,673 people as part of the long-term Whitehall II study involving British civil servants. The results showed that low levels of HDL cholesterol are associated with diminished memory by age 60. No link was found between memory loss and levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides. The use of statins to manage cholesterol levels did not seem to have an effect.

According to lead author Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM, France) and the University College London (UK)

“Memory problems are key in the diagnosis of dementia. We found that a low level of HDL may be a risk factor for memory loss in late midlife. This suggests that low HDL cholesterol might also be a risk factor for dementia.”

The mechanism behind this link between HDL cholesterol and dementia risk is not so clear but the following hypotheses are proposed:

  • HDL cholesterol blocks the formation of beta-amyloid.
  • HDL cholesterol may affect memory in relation to its role in maintaining vascular health.
  • HDL cholesterol could influence memory through its -inflammatory and antioxidant.

HDL cholesterol… serves several vital biological functions. It helps clear excess cholesterol from the blood; assists nerve-cell synapses to mature; and helps control the formation of beta-amyloid, the major component of the protein plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Dementia usually occurs in people 65 years or older. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. In the developed world where a large proportion of the population are elderly, dementia is becoming a major – and costly – health concern. The monitoring of HDL cholesterol (and not only LDL cholesterol!) should therefore be encouraged – for the heart as well as for the brain.

Photo credit: stock.xhcng

In the making: blood test for Alzheimer’s disease

March 25, 2009 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is often a problematic process. Over the blood-test1years, the field of biotechnology has tried to come up with screening and testing methods that can help identify this disease. While diagnostic biomarkers for many diseases can be identified in a blood sample, this has so far proved elusive for Alzheimer’s. However, there is a lot of promise in biomarkers found in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which makes a lot of sense – considering the CSF’s proximity to the brain. CSF is a colorless liquid found in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Taking CSF samples however is a bit controversial since it entails a procedure called a lumbar puncture or spinal tap, which is basically done inserting a needle in the lower part of the spine to collect the fluid. A spinal tap is performed to diagnose diseases affecting the nervous system.

Many experts feel that a lumbar puncture can be painful and presents some risks, complicated by the type of patients – elderly and disoriented – one is dealing with. Others claim that a lumbar puncture is essentially safe and straightforward. This controversy in relation to the CSF has led many researchers to explore further the possible of developing a blood test for Alzheimer’s.

And it seems that their efforts are bearing fruit.

American researchers “have revealed a direct relationship between two specific antibodies and the severity of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, raising hopes that a diagnostic blood test for the devastating disorder is within reach.”

The researchers focused on antibodies that the body produces in response to two Alzheimer-associated proteins. One of these proteins is the well-known amyloid-beta which is responsible for the formation of plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The other protein is the less known RAGE which is involved in the normal human aging process. However, it has been observed the RAGE is expressed at higher levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers found that anti-amyloid beta and anti-RAGE antibodies are significantly higher in the group with Alzheimer’s compared to a control group without Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, the concentrations of the two antibodies in the blood seem to be significantly associated with the severity of the disease.

According researcher Shyamala Mruthint

“Alzheimer’s is an inflammatory disease of the brain, and these two antibodies give us a way to measure that inflammation. Using them as an early diagnostic marker may allow us to start drug treatment early, when it’s most effective, to increase the patient’s quality of life.”

Hope and Help for the Holidays

October 13, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

It’s October and according to some retailers, the holidays begin now.

I don’t listen to the marketing hype, but when I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner (which I am not this year), I start thinking about the menu and planning in September. However, it’s hard logistically and emotionally to plan for the holidays when you are caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease.

By their very nature, the holidays cause us to look back. In most cases, celebrations and traditions of years gone by determine the tenor of today’s customs and rituals. For many of us, the holiday season begins with talking to our loved ones, planning where celebrations will be and what they will entail. We speak the plans for the upcoming holidays, but what we don’t say, what goes unspoken is the foundation upon which those plans are made. Here is where the friction comes in. Looking back is fine, but looking forward is scary. Your mom doesn’t remember the traditions that she couldn’t live without. Your dad is agitated by the very lights that he used to meticulously string on the Christmas tree; today, he couldn’t pour a cup of hot chocolate, much less man the omelet station for the traditional holiday brunch.

So, where does that leave you? I’m not sure, but I know where it left me. It left my heart aching for the past and sometimes dreading the future. It left me hanging on to old traditions and knowing that it was time to start new ones. It left me wondering how I could celebrate in a way that mom could enjoy without being scared, anxious or agitated.

In this series I’ll share my holiday experiences (some were nightmares) with the hopes that you can learn from MY mistakes. I’ll give you some do’s and some dont’s. I’ll hopefully inspire you to hold on to some old traditions, but encourage you to try some new ones as well.

So, let’s plan together as we approach the holidays. I’ll specifically reference Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, but it really doesn’t matter. The principles are the same for Yom Kippur or Purim.

I’ve learned, it doesn’t matter what our ethnic background or religious tradition. Alzheimer’s disease hurts all of us. It makes us all cry and it takes away a little of our past and our future as it creeps through the brains of our loved ones.

Look for upcoming posts on Hope (and Help) for the holidays. Do you have any tips for making it through the holidays? Please share.

Alzheimer’s Disease Information for Patients and Families

July 22, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

With millions of people around the world caught in its grasp, Alzheimers is a disease whose implications are still being felt. Sneaking in and slowing removing a person’s ability to recall, function and even remember their own family and friends, this condition is a nasty one that can impact not only the affected patients, but also everyone around them. With this in mind, it is very important for people faced with this condition to arm themselves with solid Alzheimers disease information.

Despite or in spite of its widespread reach, there are a lot of myths that surround Alzheimers. While having correct Alzheimers disease information won’t likely provide a family with the solace it might need following a diagnosis, it can help them better understand the condition and what to expect. Separating the fact from the fiction is very important for those who need to make decisions about future care and potential treatments.

Let’s look at some of the myths that sometimes prevent the real Alzheimers disease information from getting out:

* Memory loss is normal. While it might be normal to become a little forgetful as we age, serious memory loss is not normal. Any severe loss of memory, such as that associated with Alzheimers or other forms of dementia, is not normal under any circumstance.

* Aluminum causes Alzheimers. The real Alzheimers disease information to be had out of this one is that there is no known cause for this condition. There are some potential links, but confirmation has not been made. In regard to aluminum specifically, studies have not been able to determine a real link between drinking out of cans and contracting Alzheimers. The flu shot rumor also doesn’t seem to be true.

* The condition is not fatal. This is a false piece of Alzheimers disease information. While it is more likely that other conditions will arise that can be fatal before the deterioration progresses to the parts of the brain that control major bodily functions, the disease is considered fatal in and of itself by many experts.

* Diet sodas cause Alzheimers. This is another fallacy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been studying this claim since some scientists raises concerns about Nutrasweet and Equal, but no connection has been found as of yet.

* Alzheimers can be stopped in its progression. Sadly, this is not true. While there are some treatments that might slow the steady pace of progression, stopping it is not possible at this time. It might even be possible to stabilize a patient for a while, but no treatments have proven effective over the long haul.

Alzheimers disease information available to date doesn’t provide a lot of answers for patients and their families that might be struggling to come to grips with a diagnosis. The reality is there is still much to learn about this condition and with how little is actually known, many myths seem to thrive.

Patients and families with questions and concerns should seek medical advice. There are even some very good support groups for those impacted by this mysterious and devastating condition.

For more information on Alzheimers, try visiting www.helpwithalzheimers.com – a website that specializes in providing Alzheimers related tips, advice and resources to include information on Alzheimers disease information.

Article Source: EzineArticles.com/?expert=Samantha_Kay

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, the Elderly and Sex (part 3)

July 2, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

Okay, this is my last post on the whole dementia, Alzheimer’s and sex subject. But this subject really has me thinking about the rights of people with dementia.

Is a 14 or 15 year old any more able to give consent than a person with dementia?

Is it actually possible for caregivers to discuss this issue and come to a conclusion when the loved one is in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease?

Should long term care facilities/nursing homes make provision for spouses or “friends” to have sexual relations?

How does the dynamic change is one person has dementia and the other does not? Does it matter if the affected person is a male or female?

Should families or facilities make arrangements for safe/clean sexual encounters between residents?

At what point, if any, should facility staff/management get involved in relationship between patients?

Was there a relationship prior to the dementia (as in the case of a spouse or a person who entered the facility for something other than dementia, but now has dementia)

What part do the persons past morals and values play in the decision?

Should the caregiver’s morals be considered?

I suppose all of these questions mean that it’s an area that must be carefully studied, that there are as many answers as there are individual situations. In many religious traditions, sex outside of marriage is forbidden. The “rule” is usually enforced for the young or for divorcees. Does it actually apply to the elderly as well?

Please, I’ll give you a virtual penny for your thoughts. What’s your opinion?

Alzheimer’s Disease and Incontinence

March 18, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

Yesterday, we talked about the fact that incontinence and Alzheimer’s disease are companions.

Today, I want us to investigate incontinence a little deeper. We’ll look at types of incontinence and some differences between men and women. Hopefully, we’ll help you to be able to ask the right questions and/or figure out if your loved one’s incontinence is temporary and due to some underlying medical issue, or if it’s the incontinence brought on as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.

Women are more likely than men to be incontinent. Chalk that up to pregnancy, the resulting childbirth, menopause, and the structure of the female urinary tract.

There are also several different types of incontinence. I’ll go through them quickly, just to give you an idea.

Stress–Leakage generally caused by coughing, exercising, laughing, sneezing. or some physical pressure on the internal abdominal area.

Urge–Urination begins at the same time the urge to go is felt. The bladder contracts for seemingly no reason. Can be brought on by the sound of water or even by the washing of impacted person’s hands.

Overflow–Usually caused by a physiological issue that causes the bladder to be full most of the time.

Functional–Caused by brain function issues, such as inability to carry out the steps necessary to go to to the bathroom when the urge is felt. Inability to translate the feeling into urge to use the bathroom, and/or deterioration of brain function.

A urologist or gynecologist can help to make the proper diagnosis. In the early stages, simply adjusting liquid intake or prompting affected person to use the bathroom may be helpful. You do want to rule out physiological issues if your loved one is in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Even something as simple as a urinary tract infection can cause urinary incontinence.

Now, here’s the tricky part, getting your loved one to ACT NOW before it gets unsanitary and embarrassing for all involved. There is no easy way to approach the subject, but the smarter way is earlier rather than later. If you start talking about it while your loved one can still communicate fairly logically, it will be easier. If the affected one understands that she has Alzheimer’s disease, then that may take away a little of the resistance.

Explain that incontinence doesn’t make her any less of a person (mom, grandmother, sister, wife), it’s just an inconvenient part of Battling Alzheimer’s disease. Often, by the time the affected person is incontinent, he or she is in the later stages of the disease and it may just be a matter of selecting the best products and using them without the need for explanation or coaxing on your part.

Even still, you’ll need some information and guidance as to the products, how to use them properly and how to manage the process  so that it is clean and healthy for you and your loved one. That’s what we’ll talk about in the upcoming posts.

Until then, remember … Like I said in the post, “You gotta do what you gotta do….dealing with Incontinence.”  Everyone poops!

You Know it is Time To Stop Driving When

March 11, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

You’ve been thinking about it, but you are not sure if it’s really time to take the car keys from your loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease.  Below is a list to help you make the decision, but in the meantime keep these thoughts in mind.

Alzheimer’s is not just “getting old” and losing memory.   So the, “to drive or not to drive” issues are more complicated than driving too slowly, or getting a little turned around in terms of directions. 

Those with Alzheimer’s lose some visuospatial ability.  In English that means that they have difficulty perceiving and understanding the space between objects in their field of vision.  So, the car that is just ahead of them may appear to be way down the road.  And the man jogging across the the street two blocks ahead, may seem as if he is running out in front of the car.

Another issue is judgment and the ability to prioritize and respond to events in an appropriate manner.  So, that Uncle Bill may carefully give way to an ambulance with no lights or sirens, but may not respond at all to the stopped car in front of him.

So,  here goes, “You know its time to stop driving when…….”

10.   Dad, usually a careful and safe driver, has received several tickets or warnings in a short and recent period of time.

9.     You make lame excuses like, my puppy needs to practice her driving skills or the goldfish has swimming lessons, to keep your loved one from driving even short distances.

8.    There are unexplained scratches and dents on the car, garage doors, and mailbox.  And “vandals” have been showing up at night driving into the flower bed near the street or driveway.

7.     Uncle Bill perfectly straddles the yellow line in the middle  of the road.

6.     There is a hole or indentation on the floor where you or other passengers continually use the passenger side brakes.

5.     Grandma stops completely and waits a long time in order to merge with traffic or get onto a highway entrance/exit ramp.

4.     When you ride with Aunt Gertrude, you don’t see very much because your hands are covering your eyes.

3.    Mom sails through the red light and swears at the person who (had the green light) because he blew the horn.

2.     Dad drives 60 mph hour through the park and 25 mph on the highway.

1.     And the number one reason you KNOW its time to take the keys is if you have laughed AND related to one or more of the items in this list.

Hopefully, you smiled as you read the list.  It’s important to keep a sense of humor about these difficult issues.  However, safety is no laughing matter.  So, if you can relate to the above, then its time to get serious about taking those keys.

So, check out the joke below and smile.

 A guy is driving home from a round of golf.  His wife calls him and she is frantic.  “Honey, be very careful, I just heard the news and there is a crazy guy driving down the wrong side of the freeway.”  He replies.  “Honey, it’s much worse than that, there are HUNDREDS of people driving on the wrong side of the freeway.”

So, are you thinking of taking the keys? Have you already taken them? Do you have a funny or not so funny driving experience?  Let’s talk about it!

Civil rights for Alzheimer’s patients

February 10, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

Do Alzheimer’s patients have civil rights? Of course, they do. But what are they? How do they get them? In the area of civil rights, they are under a double or triple cloud. Last month the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK issued a new report about abuses of Alzheimer’s patients.

Why do Alzheimer’s patients have trouble getting their civil rights? First, they are vulnerable and powerless. You can’t stage a protest march when you’re in a wheelchair and need someone to push it. You can’t organize a boycott when you no longer pay your own bills. You can’t give impassioned speeches if you can’t organize your thoughts. And a disproportionate number of people with dementia are African American or Hispanic, since those groups have a disproportionate amount of stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Second, nobody really wants to give full rights to mentally handicapped people. My grandmother was never declared mentally incompetent, and I was never declared her legal guardian, but I had no trouble signing for her or getting access to her personal information from people who were supposed to be protecting it. Why? How? Because I told them that she had Alzheimer’s and that was all they needed to know. That was fine for me and her, because she wanted me to handle her affairs, and I would never take advantage of her. But in a system where nobody questioned her DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) wristband, it was not safe to grant full rights over her to a disinterested professional because they insisted they wanted what’s best for her. She lived happily for two more years after that incident – she was not exactly on her last breath.

Third, we don’t really know how to give civil rights to Alzheimer’s patients. If someone can’t communicate their wishes, it’s difficult to follow their wishes. If someone gets violently frustrated when she has to make a decision, to give her too many decisions is not compassionate. Mental disabilities are a difficult legal challenge.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to preserve the human rights of Alzheimer’s patients. Health Professions Press is one group who has published an Alzheimer’s Bill of Rights. The issues are not all that different from those faced by other groups in our society. People are prejudiced against them, and feel justified in doing so. When they can still work, they have trouble getting work. When work becomes difficult, they have trouble receiving the accommodations they need to keep working.

In the United States and elsewhere, of course, this is all illegal. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disease. And I’m sure that some employers don’t discriminate. If some workers with Alzheimer’s disease must have all their instructions in writing because they forget easily, some employers provide all their instructions in writing.

But I’m not naive enough to believe that happens all the time. I heard about an 87-year-old retired cleaning lady who was denied coverage for home health care because she couldn’t provide copies of her rent checks as evidence. Except that, because of Alzheimer’s disease, she could no longer write checks. No, discriminating against a certain class of people is common and easy – people with terminal diseases, which Alzheimer’s is. Because, eventually, these people won’t be able to protest their treatment.

For the elderly, Alzheimer’s is not the only problem

January 23, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

One reason why Alzheimer’s disease is so difficult to treat, and sometimes even to identify, is that its symptoms can be caused by other diseases. Earlier I mentioned that, besides Alzheimer’s, my grandmother also had macular degeneration – she was losing her vision in her 60s, and was legally blind for thirty years. Sensory deprivation can cause delusions in itself. People with macular degeneration can hallucinate. Perhaps the mind, struggling to make sense of the fog it sees, gets a little too creative.

Alzheimer’s is primarily a disease of the old, and the older you are, the more likely you are to have it. There are hundreds of thousands of exceptions, in both directions. Kris, who writes Dealing with Alzheimer’s, is one of hundreds of thousands of people under 65 who have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. 82-year-old blogger Millie Garfield, who writes My Mom’s Blog, has a better memory than I do. The ageless project lists ten bloggers over 75.

But the fact remains that Alzheimer’s disease affects more than half of all people over 85, according to the Mayo Clinic.


update: Above link doesn’t work from Mayo Clinic – try this from Alzheimer’s Association instead: www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp
– suggested by reader “Karen” who also offers suggestive reading about Dementia-specific oral health advice compiled from an interview that was conducted with Dr Sedillo, a member of the Special Care Dentistry Association and an expert in this area. Here’s the link – www.emergencydentistsusa.com/alzheimers-dental-care/


But when you put it that way, the question is: what else affects most people over 85? What else affects how they think and how they are treated?

  • Older people move slower. If you move slowly, people assume you think slowly. If you talk slowly, as many older Southerners were trained to do, people become convinced that you think slowly.
  • Older people get less respect. If people believe that you think slowly, they won’t ask you any mentally stimulating questions. And they certainly won’t listen to hear if you have any mentally stimulating answers. It takes patience to walk and talk with a slower person. Even I have trouble with that, after living for years with my grandmother.
  • Older people can’t hear or see as well as young people. As my grandmother’s doctor explained, sensory deprivation causes mental deterioration. That’s one reason why endless solitary confinement is so cruel, and why people who have been institutionalized for years have trouble recovering in their minds.
  • Older people have less stimulation. They play few video games. You and I have millions of things to think about – maybe too many things – because they’re bombarding our eyes and ears dozens of times a minute (hundreds of times a minute if you’re living la vida electronica). But when you can’t see or hear, you don’t have much to think about.

Your brain could be diseased, but that might be okay

January 2, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

An article published in Neurology, December 11, 2007, suggests that more than 85% of older Americans have some form of brain disease, even if they have no symptoms. In other words, you can have the plaques and tangles in your brain which are typical of Alzheimer’s disease, and practically speaking, it may not be Alzheimer’s. That is, it may not affect your behavior or thinking at all.

The study done at the Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, like the Nun Study of Dr. David Snowdon, involved dissecting brains, not living people. Both studies came to similar conclusions about multiple causes for dementia. I recall Snowdon’s surprise when he discovered that the brain of one sharp, intelligent participant was full of Alzheimers’s-like structures. His conclusion, and the conclusion of the Rush University researchers, was that if you never have a stroke, symptoms of dementia may never appear.

So instead of trying to see if they’ve discovered a vaccine for Alzheimers’s disease (they haven’t), it would be better for you to work on preventing strokes: watch your blood pressure, your weight, your cholesterol, and your cigarette smoking.

And that, as they used to say in the Sixties, is a drag. I would much rather get a vaccine than cut my sodium level any more. I tell myself I don’t have time for more exercise. And if I smoked, I probably couldn’t stop. The best strategy for preventing strokes is not complicated. But most of us aren’t willing to follow it.

My farm girl grandmother was perhaps a good example of someone who always followed an anti-stroke strategy. She was 90 before she had one, and then it seemed to have some hard-to-describe effect on her thinking. Even before that, I think she had serious brain disease, even though nobody ever dissected her brain. She wouldn’t have approved of it if someone had tried. On some days, I wondered if she was in her late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She had few delusions, except when she had a fever or took Aricept, but that’s another story. Still, she needed help, eating, walking and dressing, which is typical of advanced stages. It’s also typical of blind, arthritic people, but that’s also another story.

But even while she was having occasional delusions, my grandmother could walk around a city block, once or twice a day. She certainly didn’t have any problems with being overweight, though she sometimes said I was going to make her “fat like a duck” (she weighed less than 100 pounds). She never smoked – at least, she never told me any stories about smoking. And her blood pressure was low, not high. I heard a doctor quoted as saying that people with low pressure will always feel tired, but they’ll live to a hundred. And that also sounds like my grandmother. The always being tired part. Not the part about living to a hundred. But that’s also another story.

Looking into my grandmother’s eyes

January 1, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

I’m not a professional Alzheimer’s caregiver. I’m a grandson. I’ve been recognized for my work in taking care for my grandmother at a home health conference, but I’ve never formally studied the disease. I’ve just studied my grandmother. Through this blog, I’ll be sharing some of what I’ve learned, and what others have learned, about how to face and fight Alzheimer’s disease. My grandmother died in 2006 in her early nineties. We could have done much better for her. You can read more about this blog on our About page.

During the two years that I lived with my 90-year-old grandmother and helped her with her Alzheimer’s, I had to explain her condition to many healthcare workers, respite workers, and well-meaning relatives. I wrote pages and pages of instructions. And what were in those instructions? Of course, I explained her routines and habits, suggesting how to make her feel more comfortable. Like many elderly Alzheimer’s patients, she also suffered from blindness, deafness and arthritis, so she was challenged, as they say.

But what was the most important instruction I longed to give? Just look at her. Don’t look through her. Don’t look past her. Don’t pigeonhole her and walk away. She isn’t just a body in a hospital bed. The accomplishments of her life haven’t vanished just because part of her mind has. She hasn’t stopped being a person worthy of respect.

But usually, even professionals would assume that because she wasn’t saying much, she couldn’t say much. (She wasn’t a morning person anymore.) It didn’t occur to them that maybe the reason she wasn’t answering their questions was because she couldn’t hear them. (She hated wearing her hearing aid.) So they treated her as if she were a comatose invalid instead of a Southern lady who liked to talk about her family and walk around the block.

In other words, they were wrong about her. They weren’t paying enough attention.

The day of her first stroke, which she spent in bed, we noticed that the hospital staff had given her a special wristband, listing all of the life-saving measures that the staff were prohibited from giving her. It included fluids. My uncle politely requested that she not be dehydrated to death, and after a few hours, they brought in an IV. I think she was partly too embarrassed and angry with us for bringing her to the hospital in the first place, so she was holding her tongue. The next day, she was saying, “I’m willing to do anything that’s necessary so I can go home.” They were never sure they could find the brain damage, though she had trouble perceiving things on her left side, so after some rehab, she was back home and doing pretty much what she was doing before. They hadn’t given her enough exercise in the hospital (after all, how much exercise do you expect a 90-year-old lady to need?), so it took a while before she could walk around the block again.

True, if I had walked by her hospital bed on the first day, not knowing her, I might have assumed that she was in a coma or about to die. But I would have been wrong. If my uncle hadn’t intervened, she would have died, sure enough. Most people die when fluids are withheld from them. But who she really was, and what she was capable of doing – that wasn’t visible to the casual observer. Even brain scans couldn’t show that.

One of my favorite lines from C.S. Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength quotes a university professor, “I happen to think you can’t study people. You can only get to know them.” Since Alzheimer’s is a disease, doctors think they know something about it. But it centers on the human mind, and nobody really knows much about that.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.