Alzheimer’s Disease and the Mediterranean Diet

Posted by on Jul 27, 2014 in Alzheimer's Care at Home, Caring for the Caregiver

Alzheimer’s Disease and the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean dietDiet is one of the top items on most people’s list of things they want to pay more attention to, but the foods you choose can affect more than your weight. According to a growing number of studies, diet can play a key role in protecting your brain against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of age-related cognitive decline. What should you eat to lower your risk of cognitive problems? Closely following a Mediterranean diet has been linked by researchers in a number of studies with a significantly lower risk of cognitive impairment as you age.

What makes the Mediterranean diet a smart choice for protecting your brain’s ability to function (as well as protect the health of your heart and lower your risk of obesity and diabetes)? This approach to eating has an anti-inflammatory effect, which fights inflammation throughout the body. It is also a low glycemic diet, which can have a positive effect on your blood sugar levels.

Typically, a Mediterranean diet focuses on:

  • Whole foods (unprocessed and unrefined, with no artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, or preservatives)
  • Plant-based foods
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Lean protein, especially fish
  • Healthy fats, especially olive oil
  • Beans, peas, nuts, and legumes
  • Foods that contain a high amount of fiber, like whole grain breads and pastas and fruits such as blackberries and pears

What the science says about Mediterranean diet and the brain

Over the years, several studies that have found a link between eating a Mediterranean diet and a decreased risk of cognitive problems as you age. One recent study used information collected in a large, national study on stroke that included more than 17,000 men and women with an average age of 64. That study found that the people who consistently and closely adhered to a Mediterranean diet not only had a lower risk of stroke and depression, they also had a 40 percent reduced risk of cognitive impairment. Even people who did not adhere to the diet as rigorously had a similar reduction in their risk of cognitive impairment.

Another study reviewed the data collected in 11 observational studies and one controlled randomized controlled trial. The researchers, who were based in the United Kingdom, discovered that the more closely people adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the lower their rate of cognitive decline and risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Positive Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

More evidence supporting the positive benefits of a Mediterranean diet was uncovered by researchers comparing the effect of that diet with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet on cognitive function. The 11-year study, which included nearly 4,000 men and women over the age of 65, found that both approaches to eating protected cognitive function. People who closely followed either diet scored better on cognitive tests at the start of the study. The participants’ cognitive function declined at about the same rate over the course of the study, which means that those who started with higher cognitive function maintained that advantage. The researchers noted that two food groups (whole grains and nuts and legumes) appear to be primarily responsible for the protective effects of both diets.

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Things You Can Do To Prevent Dementia

Posted by on Jul 22, 2014 in Dementia

Things You Can Do To Prevent Dementia

Preventing DementiaCurrently, most causes of dementia are not preventable. However, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), along with various pharmaceutical companies, foundations, non-profit organizations and others, are all actively engaged in facilitating research and clinical trials aimed at slowing, delaying and preventing many forms of dementia—particularly Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

While there are no magic pharmacological bullets to prevent dementia, there’s lots of research that indicates that there are steps you can to take to reduce your risk for developing conditions leading to dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

What You Can do Now
We do know that it’s possible to reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia caused by a series of small strokes: If you smoke, quit. If you have high blood pressure and/or diabetes, talk with your doctor about how you can get those under control. Plus, many studies strongly suggest that eating a low-fat diet and exercising regularly may also reduce the risk of vascular dementia.

And remember, there are also some conditions that mimic dementia or have dementia-like symptoms (such as changes in blood sugar, sodium, and calcium and low vitamin B12 levels) that, if caught early enough may be treatable—which is one of many reasons why you shouldn’t delay getting diagnosed by a qualified medical professional.

Here’s the thing: In terms of preventing dementias (versus reducing the risk), we really don’t know anything for sure; but scientists all over the world are working on it. Currently, we know the most about Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the most common form of dementia, and the most studied. Thus, based upon these studies, consider the following:

There is some interesting evidence suggesting that eating a Mediterranean diet may decrease your risk of developing AD. A Mediterranean diet is one that includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats.

Other studies have examined foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components to find out whether those foods affect age-related changes in the brain. For example, studies in rats and mice have shown that dietary supplementation with blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries can improve cognitive function, both during normal aging and in animals that have been bred to develop AD. And another study found that curcumin, the main ingredient of turmeric (the spice that gives American mustard its bright yellow color), can suppress the build-up of harmful amyloid plaques in the brains of rodents.

Mental Exercise
Studies have shown that keeping the brain active is associated with reduced AD risk. For example, in a rather famous long-term study called the Religious Orders Study, investigators periodically asked more than 700 participants—older nuns, priests, and religious brothers—to describe the amount of time they spent in seven information-processing activities. These activities included listening to the radio, reading newspapers, playing puzzle games, and going to museums.

After following the participants for four years, the investigators found that the risk of developing AD was 47 percent lower, on average, for those who did the activities most often than for those who did them least frequently. And, there are other studies that have found that those who have pursued higher levels of education appear to enjoy a protective effect for both cognitive (e.g., thinking, reasoning) and emotional outcomes.

Health experts believe that engaging in this level of mental exercise creates or contributes to your having a “cognitive reserve.” In other words, it’s not that this population isn’t just as prone to developing AD. But rather, they’ve developed additional neurons and pathways in their brains.

Think of it like this: If “normally” your brain has one road to transport information from point A to point B, and there’s a roadblock or dead end along the way, the information won’t make it to point B. However, people that have developed new ways of thinking about things have developed multiple and alternative routes in their brains to point B, as well as have developed additional destinations, overall.

So, you may want to seriously consider exercising your brain. Start doing crossword puzzles, learn how to do new things, like how to play bridge, dance, or anything that you’ve always wanted to learn how to do.

Social Engagement
There is some compelling research suggesting that seniors who spend most of their time in their immediate home environment are almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who travel out of town. These findings, however, may also reflect the general health of the individual. So, this might be a chicken versus the egg phenomena.

Be that as it may, we do know that actively engaging in the world around you is good for one’s health – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Aerobic Exercise
There are studies suggesting that when older adults with AD engage in aerobic exercise, it improves their psychological and behavioral symptoms. Note: In these studies, aerobic exercise was defined as repetitive and rhythmic movement of large muscle groups, such as the legs.

For example, investigators looked at the relationship of physical activity and AD risk in about 1,700 adults aged 65 years and older over a six year period. They found that the risk of AD was 35 to 40 percent lower in those who exercised for at least 15 minutes, three or more times a week than in those who exercised fewer than three times a week.

There are studies suggesting that current smoking increases your risk of developing AD and other dementias —but having smoked in the past doesn’t appear to increase your risk. So, if you still smoke (and even if you’ve smoked for years), now is the time to quit. Talk with your doctor about ways of quitting that could work for you.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NINDS), here are some other potentially preventive actions you may want to consider:

Lowering Cholesterol Levels
Research has suggested that people with high cholesterol levels have an increased risk of developing AD. Cholesterol is involved in formation of amyloid plaques in the brain. Mutations in a gene called CYP46 and the APOE e4 gene variant, both of which have been linked to an increased risk of AD, are also involved in cholesterol metabolism. Several studies have also found that the use of drugs called statins, which lower cholesterol levels, is associated with a lower likelihood of cognitive impairment.

Lowering Homocysteine
There’s a building block of protein that naturally circulates in the blood called homocysteine (an amino acid). Recent studies suggest that having higher than average blood levels of homocysteine is a risk factor for a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, cognitive impairment, and stroke.

Eating foods high in folate (folic acid) and other B vitamins (such as B6 and B12) have been shown to successfully lower homocysteine levels in the blood. Whether or not increasing these B vitamins in one’s diet might offer a protective effect is yet unknown. That said, some good sources of natural folate include romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, collard greens, parsley, cauliflower, beets, and lentils.

Lowering Blood Pressure
Several studies have shown that antihypertensive medicine reduces the odds of cognitive impairment in elderly people with high blood pressure. One large European study found a 55 percent lower risk of dementia in people over 60 who received drug treatment for hypertension. These people had a reduced risk of both AD and vascular dementia.

Controlling Inflammation
Many studies have suggested that inflammation may contribute to AD. Moreover, autopsies of people who died with AD have shown widespread inflammation in the brain that appeared to be caused by the accumulation of beta amyloid. Another study found that men with high levels of C-reactive protein, a general marker of inflammation, had a significantly increased risk of AD and other kinds of dementia.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Research indicates that long-term use of NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and other similar drugs) may prevent or delay the onset of AD. Researchers are not sure how these drugs may protect against the disease, but some or all of the effect may be due to reduced inflammation. A 2003 study showed that these drugs also bind to amyloid plaques and may help to dissolve them and prevent formation of new plaques.

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Helping Alzheimer’s Patients Enjoy Life at Each Stage

Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 in Alzheimer's & Communication, Alzheimer's Activities, Alzheimer's Care at Home, Alzheimer's Care West Palm Beach, Dementia, Patient Care

Helping Alzheimer's Patients Enjoy Life at Each StageAmong the general public, Alzheimer’s is typically considered a horrible, cruel and devastating disease that destroys its “victims,” one that robs them of their very humanity.

Although Alzheimer’s is a terrible disorder, people who have it can and do still have the capacity to enjoy life, even though for those in the later stages of the disease, it may be only for relatively short periods at a time.

A lot of attention has been paid to the ‘tragic side’ of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a terrible disease. Yet, by dwelling on the negative it is too easy to victimize people with the illness and settle for lower standards of care.

Almost all people with dementia, even those in the later stages of the disease, can enjoy life if they have the right support and environment. Although we are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day for people who have Alzheimer’s, it is absolutely attainable to create perfectly wonderful moments — moments that put smiles on their faces, a twinkle in their eyes, or trigger pleasant memories.

People in the Early Stage of Alzheimer’s

In the early stages of the disorder, you can often share in whatever fun activities the person enjoyed before developing Alzheimer’s. Some games may need to be adjusted, however, to accommodate your loved one’s diminishing mental capacity. For example, you may need to play a simple card game instead of bridge or checkers instead of chess.

People with Mid-Stage Alzheimer’s

In the middle stages, people with Alzheimer’s may have more or less the mental and social skills of a young child. While it’s fine to do the old standbys — things like looking at old pictures or watching movies together, those are somewhat passive. With a little thought, you can find more active ways to spend time together, such as giving the person “props” the two of you play with together. The key words here are “play” and “together.”

People in the Latest Stages of the Disease

People in the last stage of Alzheimer’s disease like pleasant sounds and familiar voices. They also like to feel warm and comfortable. For people in this category it’s beneficial to read or talk to them about good memories. They might not understand your words, but your voice will be soothing. You might also bring a new extra soft blanket or sweater for them to wrap up in or brush their hair and apply lotion to their skin.

Photos, Stories and Songs: In interacting with people who have Alzheimer’s, share songs as well as photographs and stories about their lives.

Visitors: Unfortunately, some people stop visiting a loved one who doesn’t recognize them anymore. However, a pleasant visit will almost always leave the person in a good mood long after you’ve left, even if he or she didn’t know who you were.

Outings: Outings can be another source of pleasure for people with Alzheimer’s. However,while some people with dementia enjoy these enormously — primarily those in the early stages — those in the late stages may become confused and agitated.

Gifts: Sometimes it’s the little things that grab the attention of people with Alzheimer’s the most. Keep gifts immediate and simple. Bring them something to look at, listen to, touch, smell or taste.

Touch: You should always get verbal or non-verbal permission before touching a person with dementia. There are different types of touch – Light, moving touch is stimulating; deep, slow touch is calming.

Laughter: Alzheimer’s disease is a deadly serious topic and deservedly so, but sometimes laughter is the best medicine. This is especially true when the person with Alzheimer’s laughs along with you.

Pets and Children: Pets can often reach people with Alzheimer’s in ways we cannot. Like pets, people have also found that children, infants and even doll babies can reach dementia patients and give them great pleasure.

Art and Music: Art and music use a different part of the brain from that which is being slowly destroyed. Even those who no longer talk can often remember words and sing songs, especially ones from their young adult years. And these people can often create quite interesting works of art.


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Alzheimer’s Disease – Managing Difficult Behaviors at Home

Posted by on Jul 5, 2014 in Alzheimer's Behavioral Problems, Alzheimer's Care at Home, Alzheimer's Help, Dementia

Alzheimer’s Disease – Managing Difficult Behaviors at Home

Difficult BehaviorsAlzheimer’s disease can cause a person to act in different and unpredictable ways. Some people with Alzheimer’s become anxious or aggressive. Others repeat certain questions or gestures. Many misinterpret what they hear.

These types of reactions can lead to is understanding, frustration and tension, particularly between the person with dementia and the caregiver. It is important to understand that the person is not acting that way on purpose.

Behavior may be related to:

  • Physical discomfortBrochure
  • Illnesses or medication
  • Overstimulation
  • Loud noises or a busy environment
  • Unfamiliar surroundings
  • New places or the inability to recognize home
  • Complicated tasks
  • Difficulty with activities or chores
  • Frustrating interactions
  • Inability to communicate effectively

Use this three-step approach to help identify common behaviors and  their causes:

1. Examine the behavior

  • What was the behavior? Was it harmful to the individual or others?
  • What happened just before the behavior occurred? Did something trigger it?
  • What happened immediately after the behavior occurred? How did you react?
  • Could something be causing the person pain?
  • Consult a physician to identify any causes related to medications or illness.

2. Explore potential solutions

  •  What are the needs of the person with dementia?
  • Are they being met?
  • Can adapting the surroundings comfort the person?
  • How can you change your reaction or your approach to the behavior? Are you responding in a calm and supportive way?

3. Try different responses

  • Did your new response help?
  • Do you need to explore other potential causes and solutions? If so, what can you do differently?

To learn more, download “How to respond when dementia causes unpredictable behaviors”.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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Is It Safe to Leave the Person with Alzheimer’s Disease Alone?

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Alzheimer's Care at Home

Alzheimer's Disease Home SafetyIs It Safe to Leave the Person with Alzheimer’s Disease Alone?

This issue needs careful evaluation and is certainly a safety concern. The following points may help you decide.
Does the person with Alzheimer’s:

  • Become confused or unpredictable under stress?
  • Recognize a dangerous situation, such as fire?
  • Know how to use the telephone in an emergency?
  • Know how to get help?
  • Stay content within the home?
  • Wander and become disoriented?
  • Show signs of agitation, depression, or withdrawal when
  • Left alone for any period of time?
  • Attempt to pursue former interests or hobbies that might now warrant supervision, such as cooking, appliance repair, or woodworking?

You may want to seek input and advice from a health care professional to assist you in these considerations. As
Alzheimer’s disease progresses, these questions will need  ongoing evaluation.

The Challenges of Alzheimer’s Caregiving

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease is a challenge that calls upon the patience, creativity, knowledge, and skills of each caregiver. This booklet “Home Safety for People with Alzheimer’s Disease”, will help you cope with some of these challenges and develop creative solutions to increase the security and freedom of the person with Alzheimer’s in your home, as well as your own peace of mind.

It begins with a checklist to help you make each room in your home a safer environment for the person with Alzheimer’s. Next, it helps to increase awareness of the ways specific impairments associated with the disease can create particular safety hazards in the home.

Home safety tips are listed to help you cope with some of the more hazardous behaviors that may occur as the disease advances. We also include tips for managing driving and planning for natural disaster safety.

If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease in West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens or in any other South Florida community, call ElderCare at Home to schedule a complimentary home safety evaluation at 561-585-0400

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