As you age, memory fades. It’s not necessarily a sign of something sinister; forgetfulness has long been accepted as a natural part of aging. But scientists are beginning to understand how we form and keep memories.

At UCLA, scientists have discovered that synapses, the electrical trails between neurons, can become worn as we age. Memories and associations can become weaker over time as the synapses connecting the thoughts deteriorate. Scientists have previously focused their efforts on researching how brains make memories, not on how memories are stored in the brain. This new research suggests that connections between neurons can be reestablished by encouraging electrical activity in synapses.

One of the more promising ways this research is paying off for Alzheimer’s patients can be found in a UCLA study. For the first time in medical history, the study was able to show real improvement in the memories of Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers used custom treatments for each patient—including dietary alterations, brain stimulation, exercise, sleep training, pharmaceuticals, and a few other techniques designed to alter brain chemistry. The results are impressive: The subjects of the study show a partial reversal of memory loss and improvements in other systems.

As scientists learn more about how we make and store memories, our ability to combat diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s will grow. Until scientists develop an effective treatment, it is still possible to take steps to minimize your risk of memory loss.

In order to keep your mind healthy, take inspiration from the UCLA study and work to maintain an active brain. A healthy diet that minimizes sugars and nontraditional fats has been shown to keep brains healthy. Drinking two cups of coffee a day can also help your body maintain its brain power. Exercise, even as little as a 30-minute daily walk, can help seniors maintain healthy brain function. Finally, keep your mind active by challenging yourself every day. Learn a new language, complete a crossword puzzle, or engage in a lively debate. Making yourself learn new information and recall it rapidly is an excellent way to keep your mind sharp.

While scientists figure out exactly how to reverse the process of memory loss in the aging population, it’s possible for seniors to take steps now to maintain a healthy, active mind.

 

David Letterman was famous for his Top 10 lists on his late-night television show. Most of them often brought a chuckle, while some were downright awful. But what Mr. Letterman understood was the power of creating an easy-to-remember list that could be recited the next day at lunch or around the water cooler at work.

We’ve created such a Top 10 list, but it’s not intended to make you laugh. It is intended to be memorable and frequently discussed with your loved ones. While you may not want to recognize one or more of the signs on this list because to do so would be to admit that your aging parents need some help at home, it’s vitally important that you know what to look for so you can act before an accident happens.

Here is the list: 10 Signs Your Elderly Parent Needs Help at Home

  1. Stacks of unopened mail or unread newspapers and magazines
  2. Spoiled food in the refrigerator
  3. Empty pantry and cupboards
  4. Declining personal hygiene (body odor, unkempt hair, unbrushed teeth)
  5. Mood swings and unexplained changes in mood
  6. Lack of interest in hobbies, reading, and conversation
  7. A strong smell of urine in the house
  8. Piles of dirty laundry and beds without sheets or blankets
  9. Difficulties with standing, walking, or mobility
  10. Forgetfulness beyond a simple “senior moment”

If you’ve noticed one or a combination of the above signs, then it may be time to start the conversation about next steps for your aging loved one. Many options ranging from part-time home care aides to assisted-living facilities are available. There are many ways to help you protect your elderly parent when you notice the signs. This list of indicators is a place to start.

While memory impairment is often what comes to mind when one thinks of Dementia, agitation is what most often causes my phone to ring with a request for an evaluation. Behavioral changes, paranoid delusions, hallucinations and long periods of screaming were described by the psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, for whom Alzheimer’s Disease is named, in 1907 in his original case description of the disease nearly 100 years ago. ‘Agitation’ is a term that is most often used to describe a wide variety of behavioral symptoms seen in patients with dementia. The medical term used to describe these symptoms is the Behavioral and Psychiatric Symptoms of Dementia, or BPSD for short.

It is estimated that BPSD affects up to 90% of all individuals with dementia over the course of their illness, and is independently associated with poor outcomes, including distress among patients and caregivers, long-term hospitalization, misuse of medication, and increased health care costs.

There are several categories of BPSD, these include:

  • Disturbances of emotional experience such as mood lability, depression, anxiety, irritability/hostility, apathy, and crying spells.
  • Psychotic experiences including delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.
  • Sleep Disturbances such as sleeping excessively, waking up frequently, sleepwalking and its related conditions.
  • Appetite Disturbance can manifest as low to non-existent appetite and weight loss, excessive appetite/demands for food, and ingestion of non-edible substances.
  • Disinhibited Behaviors include wandering (present in about 25% of patients with Alzheimer’s), yelling (seen is 25% of Nursing Home residents), excessive talking, inappropriate sexual behaviors, and hypermetamorphosis (the need to touch, and sometimes hoard, every object in sight).
  • Personality changes can manifest both as acting in atypical ways as well as experiencing a ‘distillation’ of the personality so that the person behaves as a caricature of themselves.
  • Uncooperative behaviors are most often related to personal care such as bathing, dressing, taking medications, and grooming activities.
  • Certain behaviors can be more commonly associated with different types of Dementia. For example, hallucinations can be a prominent feature of Lewy-Body Dementia, and Complex Sleep Related Behavioral Disorder is often associated with Parkinson’s Dementia, and changes in personality can be the first symptoms of Fronto-Temporal Dementia.

While these behaviors are often manifestations of the underlying brain damage caused by dementia, they are sometimes related to co-occurring medical conditions which should be evaluated as part of an assessment of BPSD. These include things such as urinary tract infections, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid abnormalities, diabetes, kidney and liver function, and pain syndromes.

Assessment of BPSD begins with a thorough evaluation consisting of gathering information from multiple sources to learn not only about the onset and evolution of the BPAD and underlying dementia, but also a detailed assessment of medical conditions, all medications being taken by the individual, as well as an assessment of the possible contributors/triggers of the BPSD from the living environment.

Improvement of BPSD is often achieved through a combination of adjustments in medication, treatment of any underlying medical conditions, and modification of the individual’s environment/caregiver approach. Because there are so many different types of agitation and because each patient’s background, life story, medical issues, and temperament are unique, an individualized approach that takes all of these variables into account is most likely to be successful.

 

What’s your favorite song?

Whether it’s a golden oldie or new music, chances are, if it’s your favorite you know the lyrics by heart. You sing them on long car rides, in the shower, or when you’re having a good day. It turns out, these impromptu karaoke sessions are good for more than your vocal training.

Finnish researchers have found that singing may be a way to improve brain function, even in patients with early stage dementia. Singing improved the mood and the cognitive abilities of everyone in the study, especially those with early stage dementia.

Researchers studied the effects of music on the brain for 10 weeks, allowing seniors to sing their favorite tunes, hum music, and listen to tunes. Seniors with mild dementia showed improvement in memory, thinking skills, and their ability to get around. Those without dementia showed improved memory skills as well.

Singing also served as a mood elevator. Seniors who were encouraged to sing reported mood improvement and increases in optimism.

What does this mean for the seniors in your life?

It means it’s time to get musical.

If your loved one is having trouble with memory or mood, consider signing them up for a music class or a senior singing group. An activity with a musical theme is also an excellent idea for seniors with no memory problems, as it will help keep them sharp. If you can’t find a music-based activity, singing along may be the key to victory. Get your senior’s favorite music and arrange for an interactive concert. Afraid of sounding off-key? The study shows that even those who listen to music can reap the mental benefits.

Whether you’re hoping to keep your mind honed or simply interested in a sing along, music may be the key to keeping healthy in 2016.

A recent New York Times article reveals a direct link between blood sugar and dementia.

“We found a steadily increasing risk [of dementia] associated with ever-higher blood glucose levels, even in people who didn’t have diabetes,” Dr. Crane said. Of particular interest: “There’s no threshold, no place where the risk doesn’t go up any further or down any further.” The association with dementia kept climbing with higher blood sugar levels and, at the other end of the spectrum, continued to decrease with lower levels.”

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