‘Interventions for People with Dementia’ Posts

Health And Safety Tips For Seniors Living With Dementia

October 24th, 2016 by Doris Bersing

Managing DementiaDementia can affect a person in any number of ways, so it’s important to take care of the mind, body, and spirit in equal measure after a diagnosis of the disease. Although it is associated most closely with memory loss, there are physical and emotional tolls as well. It is most commonly caused by changes in the brain brought on by Alzheimer’s disease or more than one stroke and can bring on violent behavior, problems with language skills, and trouble with day-to-day activities.

For individuals who have not been placed in assisted living but need help in their day-to-day, there are many things for loved ones to think about concerning their safety and wellbeing. It’s helpful to go around their living space and assess any possible dangers or hazards; upgrades may need to be made in order to keep them comfortable, happy, and safe. Jim Vogel, offers here few of the best tips on how to do just that.

Encourage cognition: It’s important for sufferers of dementia to keep their minds active, so encourage them to play word games or simply tell stories about their life. Remembrance is a good thing, even when it involves a sad memory, because it keeps the individual in the present and helps them focus.

Keep them social: Loneliness can quickly lead to depression, so it’s important to make sure your loved one stays active and social. Help them find a group activity or club to join, such as a book group that meets once a week. Finding something they love and can stay active in will help immensely with mood and cognition, and it will give them a goal as well as something to look forward to.

Daily exercise is a must: Daily exercise is great for the body, but it’s good for the mind and mood, too. Activity can boost brain function and help stimulate positive feelings, so help your loved one get out and get moving. Daily walks in sturdy shoes are perfect, as is swimming, golfing, gardening, and anything else they might enjoy that won’t put a strain on them physically.

Safety measures: It’s important to know what your loved one’s specific needs are before assessing their living space. If dementia has progressed to a certain point, you might consider implementing safety measures such as door alarms and personal emergency alarms. Look around every room and check for properly installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, adequate lighting, and trip hazards such as slippery rugs, clutter, or furniture. Bathrooms will need to be checked for safety hazards as well; non-slip rubber mats should be placed on the floor and in the tub, and handrails or shower seats are always advisable. And if you’re loved one takes any medication, take control of their daily doses. Doing so will help them avoid becoming addicted to medications, such as opioids, and dangerous side effects from incorrect dosage.

If the dementia diagnosis is linked to Alzheimer’s, it’s important to understand the side effects of both, as they may differ from person to person. Alzheimer’s can cause physical issues such as vision loss and balance problems, so it’s imperative to make sure your loved one’s home can accommodate them safely. Stairs may be a problem to navigate; make sure the handrails are in good shape and the stairwell is well lit.

Lastly, keep up good communication with your loved one and make sure they know you’re there for them. Help them keep in touch with other family members and friends and offer to assist them with doctor appointments; every little thing helps.

 

Feeling forgetful? Tips for seniors to preserve their mental abilities

March 10th, 2016 by Doris Bersing

Our associate Edward FrancisBrain Changes explains here few important tips for seniors to preserve their mental abilities when feeling forgetful. He says, “….If you’ve recently noticed that you’re going through some thinking issues, it could mean that your mental abilities are decreasing. Are you having issues remembering where you put your house keys? Do you struggle remembering what you did yesterday? These are common changes that the brain may be experiencing as you age…” But we could ask: how can seniors distinguish common thinking issues from severe health conditions linked to mental stability such as Alzheimer’s or dementia?

Understanding the brain and its functions

As you age, your brain’s volume begins to shrink. As soon as this happens, the nerve cells inside your brain may lose connections with your other nerve cells and just shrink. The blood flowing through the brain loses intensity as we age. This is an age-related change that is believed to be the root cause of cognitive decline. It is perfectly normal to experience memory lapses every now and then; however significant memory loss is not part of the aging process. It is important to make an appointment with a physician and know for sure whether or not your memory loss is a sign of cognitive decline or not. Cognitive symptoms that get in the way of your daily activities must not be overlooked as these will interfere with your daily activities.

Changes in the brain that might trigger dementia

Dementia is a form of cognitive decline in mental abilities, including language skills, reasoning, memory, perception and judgment. The causes are different from patient to patient. Alzheimer’s in particular, is one of the most common forms of dementia. It materializes when the brain’s nerve cells deteriorate and die. Vascular dementia on the other hand, happens when the brain’s nerve fibers are damaged by cardiovascular or cerebrovascular problems, most commonly strokes.

Tips for seniors to prevent cognitive decline

Promising medical research shows that taking into consideration the following steps might help preserve your mental abilities as you get older.

  • Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control – adhere to a healthier lifestyle. Exclude unhealthy carbohydrates, sugar and salt from your diet, and focus your attention on eating more vegetables and fruits. Drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly. Daily walking for 30 minutes or swimming should keep your blood pumping and your cholesterol levels under control.
  • Quit smoking & alcohol consumption – both smoking and alcohol consumption may increase your chances of developing dementia as you age. It’s ok to have a glass of wine in the evening, but make sure to drink in moderation.
  • Work out – regular physical activity is believed to help preserve adequate blood flow into the brain; daily activities that keep the blood pumping may reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, an ailment directly linked to developing dementia.
  • Keep your brain stimulated – mental stimulation is vital for your brain health. Stay active by boosting your degree of social interaction. Play challenging games (chess, solve puzzles) and engage in daily activities to keep your brain engaged.

Poor concentration can be a major cause for memory loss. Seniors can start forgetting things when their brains are not properly stimulated. Boredom and lack of stimulation may be a trigger for developing severe anxiety and depression. That’s why it is fundamental for seniors to find activities that can sustain mental stability. Reading books, solving puzzles, and playing chess should definitely be checked out.

Home care and professional healthcare

Many seniors don’t want to admit that they can’t manage on their own anymore, and they would do anything to preserve their independence for as long as possible. That’s not always the smartest thing you can do. If you’re becoming forgetful it’s best to ask for help. Turn to your family and friends, and consider home care. Hiring a caregiver to help you with your grocery shopping, daily home maintenance and cleaning might also be a great idea.

Bottom line is, we can’t put an end to the aging process; and whether we like it or not at some point in life our brains will deteriorate. Most people are terrified of nursing homes; they don’t want to be left alone in a place filled with stranger. And yet, the idea of care homes is not as scary as it seems. There are comfortable facilities where you can enjoy an active lifestyle, interact with people your age, and live a happy and fulfilling life. All you have to do is take a leap of faith!

A Cure for Alzheimer’s? The Noise Around Coconut Oil

July 29th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

12353888_mIt is common to hear of new ‘miracle cures’ being discovered, this is particularly true now that the internet is capable of spreading any story around the world in mere moments. Of course, many of these miraculous cures turn out to be impossible to confirm using current medical science.

One such claim was made by Dr. Mary Newport who seemed to have reversed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in her husband by simply adding coconut oil to his diet for two weeks. The difference with this claim is that subsequent research appears to confirm this finding. (see an interview with Dr. Newport). It is true that MCT fats and their power to boost brain function

The majority of fats you consume are processed through the lymphatic system; however MCT fats are not, they go directly to the liver and are converted into energy which is instantly usable by the body. These MCT fats have been found to improve brain function after just one dose.

Neurodegenerative conditions

Alzheimer’s is one of several diseases which slowly destroy the neurological functions of the body, and in particular, the brain. The research conducted by the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada focused on the effects of coconut oil and the survival of neurons in the body. Coconut oil was found to be incredibly good at protecting these neurons from destruction and that the neurons were healthier with better mitochondria function than before the treatment. This was an essential finding as mitochondria function has been shown to be compromised in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

It is understood that this is possible as the MCT fats provide an alternative energy source to for these neurons. This allows them to function when they would otherwise die as they are unable to access the normal, glucose based energy available in the body. More research is planned to investigate and substantiate these findings further.

Rescuing the Brain

Coconut oil works by addressing the metabolic derangement in the brain, it provides an alternative energy source which allows the cells to heal and function normally again. The derangement of the brain is also known as Type 3 Diabetes. This is the naturally occurring resistance to insulin which makes the brain incapable of absorbing glucose properly. As the brain require a huge amount of energy on a daily basis an inability to obtain enough of this will have a detrimental effect on the brain cells; starting with the less vital ones.

Coconut oil appears to not only provide instantly usable energy to the brain but it can also provide the basis of new brain cells allowing the brain not only to repair itself but to grow and accept new information. Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and have taken coconut oil have shown significant improvement in cognitive function and memory.

Poetic license

Alongside the research and gradual increase in positive results from this natural substance it may be of interest to note that the coconut is actually composed in a similar way to the human head. A coconut has an extremely hard outer shell, much like the human skull. Inside is a fatty acid-rich ‘meat’, this is the food source for the organ (brain) that they resemble. Walnuts have a similar look and have also been attributed with a variety of health benefits. It suggests that Mother Nature is prompting the use of coconuts and other natural foods by associating them with the part of the body they help.

Of course, this is subjective and it will probably take many years and many millions or billions of dollars before this is proved by scientists. In the meantime you will need to draw your own conclusions as to whether to incorporate this ‘food as medicine’ approach to health. Many would say that coconut oil for Alzheimer’s is a holistic type of treatment. Even though actual physicians managed to connect the oil to the diseases, numerous other related studies are still trying to prove that the connection is real, and that coconut could stop the formation of plaques in Alzheimer’s.

As Edward Francis from Supplemented.co.uk  says “…there’s no cure for dementia. Nevertheless, scientists are not losing hope…Dr. Newport was determined to help her husband, and apparently she managed to reserve the severe symptoms with coconut oil…” It is important though to ask the advice of a professional in the domain before starting a treatment. We will continue trying anything that can be of help to alleviate if not to stop such a cruel disease.

Empathy Plays an Important Role in Care Giving

June 10th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

Empathy and caregivingBe kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle   ~ Plato

Many of our elders who had reached the golden years, find difficult to see the golden part of aging and at least, initially, they are aware of the transitions and respond with a myriad of emotions from shame and anger to depression, anxiety, and fear. Let’s remember theirs was the generation that survived the Great Depression and fought the last “good war.” Aging was not on their agenda, not for this long, not with so many medical issues, and with so little resources for retirement; to care for them we need knowledge, skills but overall empathy.

What is Empathy?

The simplest definition is the feeling of understanding you get when you stop and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. For caregivers this can mean imagining what it must be like to be in constant pain, or to be facing your own death. It could even be picturing oneself as constantly dependent on others, without any privacy. Once you understand what this would feel like you are able to relate better to the patient and will be much less likely to be frustrated by their actions.

Understanding their pain is only the first part of the job. You will also need to overlook your own feelings regarding how they may have arrived at their situation. It is imperative to accept people as they are and help them in any way you can. Empathizing with them will make your job easier as you understand why they need the care and the best way of approaching it.

Edward Francis with Foresthc.com shared with us some of the important points about how relevant empathy s when caring for our elders. He says, “…There are an increasing number of care givers in the world. This is a combination of people living longer and the steady increase of people in the world. Many caregivers fall into the role and can be excellent at taking care of someone’s needs; however this does not mean that they emphasize with them; a good caregiver can simply treat others, as they would like to be treated.

Understanding the Patient

Some patients can seem incredibly rude and make it very difficult to either help them or emphasize with them. In fact these are the ones that need your empathy more than any other. The rudeness is generally a result of severe frustration with the situation they find themselves in. Part of the role of a good caregiver is to understand how the family and friends are coping and to emphasize with them as well.

They may need a break or be struggling with dealing with the issue and a supportive shoulder can work wonders. Understanding their needs and fears can also provide you with the opportunity to help a family member deal with their own emotions and offer a better care giving experience to their loved one. Embarrassment is a common feeling in patients, like all of us they have been used to looking after themselves and doing what they like when they want to.

To have this all taken away and be completely dependent on others is difficult for anyone to adapt to. This often shows as rudeness or aggression but once you understand the patient you will be able to see it for what it is and react accordingly. Be patient and whatever you do make sure you don’t lose your temper in front of them; you certainly don’t want to make them worse, not to mention that it is unprofessional.

Listening can help caregivers empathize more with the patient

It can be very difficult when you are in constant pain and dependent on others to assist you. This can become much worse if you are not able to share your fears with anyone. A good caregiver will see these fears and will listen. Talking to someone allows a patient to lighten the load and this will help them to cope with the situation. It will also prevent either the patient or their family from getting wound up when there are so many factors, which are beyond their control.

Level of care

Caregivers who take the time to understand their patient’s personalities, needs and situation can offer a far better service. You will be able to relate to the patient and this will trigger a better response from them as they register your intentions. A caregiver who can emphasize with their patient will automatically look for ways to improve both the level of care and the general care experience. The best caregivers have empathy, sympathy and integrity, a difficult mix to balance.

Empathy is vital when caregiving for someone with dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. You must find a way to control your negative emotions and focus on the positive. This will help you get a better response from the patient, not to mention that you’ll be more relaxed and willing to help them out too.

Lower the Risk of Dementia with these 6 foods

May 12th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

Diet and Alzheimer's diseaseDementia can be a scary prospect, especially if it runs in your family. Whilst there’s no fix for it yet, there are lots of methods to reduce your risk via lifestyle changes – such as adding exercise, or changing your diet. Although there are many theories defending the properties of some food as anti-aging or anti-dementia ones, our collaborator, Edward Francis compiled an easy list for us, suggesting top 6 foods are well known to help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are the top 6 foods for lowering the risk of developing dementia.

Berries

Berries have a lot of benefits when it comes to lowering your risk of dementia, and they’re easier to add into your diet – whether as dessert or daily snacks. Firstly, they contain vitamin C and E, both of which are shown in studies to reduce the risk of developing dementia. It’s theorized that part of what causes issues like dementia is damage to the brain, caused by something known as ‘free radicals’. Vitamins C and E can reduce the effect of these free radicals, as well as actively protecting against some in particular (for instance, vitamin E can help defend against amyloid proteins in patients with Alzheimer’s). These benefits by themselves would be great, but they also contain anthocyanin – another chemical which specifically targets free radicals. These are found most in blue and purple fruits, so blackberries and blueberries are the ones to watch.

Almonds

Another great one to add as a snack alongside berries is almonds. Also high in vitamin E, they have the added benefit of being low in saturated fats, meaning you don’t need to be too careful about how many you eat. They’re also high in biotin, a complex b-vitamin. Whilst research into B-vitamins and dementia is still in early stages, its being thought that they may have an effect (and, even if they don’t, they keep your skin healthy!). Almonds are great for lowering your risk of dementia, as well as reducing the risk of developing gallstones and heart disease. You may as well try them, right?

Fish (or a vegetarian alternative)

Fish is packed with omega-3, one of the key things to ensure you’ve got in your diet if you want to reduce your risk of dementia. People with low omega-3 have higher amounts of brain shrinkage, and do worse in memory tests so this is one backed by quite a lot of evidence! If you eat fish, then you want cold-water fish mostly – salmon, tuna, and so on. You could also take fish oil supplements instead. But don’t worry – if you’re a vegetarian (or simply not a fan of fish) you can get vegetarian omega 3. It’s possible to get vegetarian supplements, but our favorite sources are walnuts, flax seeds and cabbage.

Turmeric

Finally, turmeric. Turmeric is a spice that we in the west don’t eat so much of – but if you’re a fan of Indian food you may well do. It contains something called curcumin, and antioxidant that can break down amyloid-beta plaques. These plaques are one of the key signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst the research on turmeric is variable, one thing that is clear is that curcumin definitely has a great effect. We recommend eating adding turmeric to your meals or adding a supplement since the research is still underway, but it’s looking hopeful.

Kale

Regularly called a superfood, in this case it’s true. Kale contains a lot of things essential for reducing your risk of dementia. As mentioned earlier, B-vitamins are a potential source of reduction, and kale contains b9 – known to reduce depression and increase cognition. The main thing we’re interested in here though is folate (or folic acid). A study from 2008 shows that dementia is three times as common in people whose blood has low levels of folates. This is a huge amount, and kale is a great source of it. Whilst the reasons behind this link aren’t yet known, it’s clear that it exists. Another bonus to Kale is that it has cartenoids which lower homocysteine. If this doesn’t mean much, let’s phrase it another way: homocysteine is an amino acid which is linked to cognitive impairment (the thing we want to avoid!) and kale contains things that reduce that. Well worth adding in to your diet.

Coffee

For once, something telling you coffee is good, not bad! A study in Florida showed that those with caffeine in their blood had a much lower risk of dementia. This is just one study, but it’s a good start. There are others that seem to back the results, and some that disagree. However, when looking into the specifics with mice, scientists found that caffeine reduces the brains ability to recognize adenosine.  Adenosine causes the brain to become inflamed (a huge part of what we see in issues like dementia). It seems that caffeine may well have beneficial effects, so why not have at least one cup a day? You’ll feel more awake and can justify it by saying you’re reducing your future risks. That is just perfect.

 

 

Identity and Dementia: Where Do I Go?

March 23rd, 2015 by Doris Bersing
Frankly I do not give a damn...

Frankly I do not give a damn…

Most of us spend a big part of our life searching for meaning, trying to find our identity, and although Thomas Szasz said in The Second Sin (1973) said “…the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates…” we set ourselves for the pursuit of that elusive identity and our meaning as human beings. What is life all about and overall what is our role in life? What do we really live for? Who are we?

We pass many of our prime years looking for our identity, fighting for one, trying to assert one if we are ever given a glimpse of it, wrestling to have our needs met and to have our dreams come true. That search for identity comes sometimes in a puzzle of circumstances, challenges and exploits, and like the overprotected Nemo, we need to swim the oceans of uncertainty and grow until finding ourselves

Through the journey in search of our identity, we attempt to unfold our potential, our desires, and to adjust at the best of our abilities to the challenges of daily life. We build our life upon joys, shadows, and sorrows and fill that life with the mementos and the facts we carve in our memory, those we gathered throughout our journey but one-day, zas! You are diagnosed with dementia. There you are, all of the sudden lost, confused and soon to be stripped, if not of your identity, at least, officially, of your mind.

I know, hopefully, we all have been lost in our minds out of excitement, passion, or love and yet, after the diagnoses you will not be lost in your mind, anymore, since now, your are losing yours. Of course, we could discuss what really mind is, there is so much more to the mind than the cognitive aspect of it and yet for any purpose is THAT mind the one holding your memories, mementos, treasures, pains, and joys that is ready to go with the wind. Well in reality, with the plaques and tangles created in your brain, in a certain time you will not even remember the time of diagnosis. Just as Clark Gable stated while playing Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, stated, you may well say: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn….” But he clock is ticking.

Professionals will offer all what they have. They talk and teach how to calm you down, how to deal with your mood swings and your challenging behaviors but do they really know what we are going through, what you are going through? Do they know that you are going through the tunnel, in and out of the darkness, the uncertainty with the challenge of living an existential tale of the here and now, for which, you did not sign up and for which, effectively you have never practiced. Then come the drugs, the optimism, the clinical trials, the walking to fund more research, hopefully before it is too late for you. Looking now for a different meaning. There is so much that is done, said, so much still to do and yet nobody really knows what you are going through.

We try and theorize about the phenomenon, the neurological, psychological, emotional, and practical side of it, even the spiritual side of it. Needless to say, we appreciate all the nice legitimate attempts people make writing new books about breakthrough treatments and findings; they present lectures, write articles about you but what if you could really explain how it is to know that your life is slipping away, fading away? What if you had a voice? What if they found a cure?

I wish I could be more helpful, but I really do not know how it is, all is in my best efforts to explain a phenomenon, I can only observe and witness with powerlessness, compassion and horror. I do not have dementia and I wonder if I had it how I would feel? What would it be like? Again, I do not know but if I could, if I were you, I would not like to go there. That said, I hope I would react calmly and with patience for myself, although I doubt it but let the journey continue and keep on swimming.

For now, I find some solace and motivation to keep ‘on swimming in Thoreau’s wisdom:

“…I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~Henry David Thoreau, 1854

Pilot exercise program may help dementia patients

August 25th, 2014 by Doris Bersing

silhouettes-278791_640Researchers at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have developed and tested a pilot exercise program for dementia patients. The program, called PLIÉ (Preventing Loss of Independence Through Exercise), combines elements of exercise methods such as tai-chi, yoga, Feldenkrais, and dance movement therapy and focuses on basic functional movements, developing  mindful body awareness and promoting social connection. A clinical trial of eleven adult participants over an 18-week period yielded  positive qualitative results indicating that the exercise program provides functional, emotional and social benefits for patients with mild to moderate dementia.

Read more about the study

Preventing Loss of Independence through Exercise (PLIÉ): qualitative analysis of a clinical trial in older adults with dementia, published in Aging & Mental Health, 2014