Paying attention: better than medicine?

January 21, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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So many things are different about most Alzheimer’s patients, besides Alzheimer’s. Many of them have multiple troubles, any one of them which would affect the mind of an ordinary person. Just the lack of sensory input can cause the loss of mental capacity, my grandmother’s doctor told me. Add macular degeneration, hearing loss, sensory damage caused by strokes, and general aging-related losses, and you end up with someone like my grandmother who can’t see well, can’t hear well, can’t feel well, can’t smell well, and can’t taste well. After the doctor told me that, I began to wonder if my grandmother’s dislike of her hearing aid might be having more serious consequences.

Social as well as medical factors can affect your mind. Last week I mentioned a study of teenagers who were treated with the same neglect as elderly people. Imagine what condition your mind would be in if you had as little human interaction as the residents in many assisted living homes. If you’ve ever spent all day caring for a baby, you might already know.

Research into the use of antipsychotic drugs to treat aggression (how about using anti-aggressive drugs to treat aggression?) has provided an insight that’s interesting to me. Dr. Peter J. Tyrer, a psychiatry professor at Imperial College London, was studying the effects of these drugs on people with low IQs. He found that giving them pills greatly lowered their aggressiveness. Wait… notice that I said pills. The antipsychotic drugs, Risperdal and Haldol, lowered their aggressiveness by 65% or less. But the placebo – the sugar pill – lowered it by 79%.

Says the New York Times:

In an interview, Dr. Tyrer said there was no reason to believe that any other antipsychotic drug used for aggression, like Zyprexa from Eli Lilly or Seroquel from AstraZeneca, would be more effective. Being in the study, with all the extra attention it brought, was itself what apparently made the difference, he said.

“These people tend to get so little company normally,” Dr. Tyrer said. “They’re neglected, they tend to be pushed into the background, and this extra attention has a much bigger effect on them that it would on a person of more normal intelligence level.”

Besides Alzheimer’s patients, these drugs are now being used on other non-psychotic people such as depressed college students and children with attention deficit. But maybe a little personal attention and human kindness would be more effective.

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  1. […] 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 […]

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