Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review

Contributed by Emily Anderson

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast

If you're looking to learn something about caregiving and have a great time, this is the book for you. Roz Chast's book is a quick and easy read because it is written like a newspaper comic strip, with drawings and handwritten stories. But don't let that fool you into thinking this book isn't serious. Chast's memoir of caring for her aging (and sometimes stubborn) parents is humorous and heartbreakingly honest. 

Though you might not get many practical tips out of it, Chast speaks to the true thoughts and feelings that every caregiver has, and it will leave you feeling a little less alone in your efforts to take care of the people you love.

Remember, one great way to relieve stress is to set aside a little bit of time for yourself to do something enjoyable, like reading a book. It is your right to make time for yourself, even when the people around you need you! Look for Chast's book at your local library or bookstore and set aside some quiet time to enjoy it on these chilly fall days.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shades of Gray Matter: The Types of Dementia

by Emily Anderson

We often talk to family members who are trying to sort out what their loved one's diagnosis actually means. Is "dementia" the same as Alzheimer's, or different? Is it worse or better?

"Dementia" is actually and umbrella term that refers to a whole group of diseases that share similar features, such as brain tissue damage, memory problems, difficulty making decisions, and changes in personality. We can make a guess about what kind of dementia a person has based on their symptoms, but there is no good way to tell for sure until after the person dies. If your doctor has told you that your loved one has "dementia," it may mean that though they are affected by a disease process, your loved one doesn't have any features distinctive enough for a doctor to tell what type of dementia he or she may have. Sometimes having a more specific diagnosis can help you know what to expect and how to help your loved one.

Though we are still just beginning to understand the various types of dementia, there are many resources for people who are affected and their families. Below are the most common types of dementia, with some details on how to tell them apart.

Alzheimer's Dementia

The one we are all familiar with, Alzheimer's disease affects about 13% of people over age 65 and begins with memory problems and progresses to more profound changes in communication, personality, and behavior. We all forget our keys from time to time or fail to recall someone's name, but usually it comes back to us later. A person with Alzheimer's however, will have more profound "forgetfulness" that they never figure out, even after asking the same question over and over. On a biological level, Alzheimer's comes along with deposits of protein in the brain called "plaques" and "tangles," as well as the loss of nerve cells in the brain. Alzheimer's disease makes up about 60-80% of all the cases that fall under the umbrella of "dementia." For more signs of Alzheimer's disease, information, and to find support, check the Alzheimer's Association website.

Vascular Dementia

The second most common type, vascular dementia, is the result of blocked blood vessels in the brain or bleeding from tiny (or sometimes massive) strokes. Many people with Alzheimer's dementia also experience vascular dementia. On its own, though, vascular dementia accounts for about 10% of all dementia cases and is marked more by difficulty with planning, making decisions, or organizing things and not so much with memory loss. If your loved one already has Alzheimer's and experiences some vascular dementia, you might notice a sudden deterioration in their behavior or thinking. Though people can often recover a lot from a massive stroke, some of the damage is permanent. To read more about vascular dementia and how you can protect your loved one, check here and at the American Stroke Association .

Lewy Body Dementia

This dementia often starts out with memory loss and is often mis-diagnosed as Alzheimer's Disease, but has some additional symptoms that are not usually found in Alzheimer's. People with Lewy Body dementia are more likely to have trouble sleeping, visual hallucinations, difficulty staying alert, and experience "frozen" muscles that make movement difficult. Currently, Lewy Body dementia accounts for 10% of dementia diagnoses, but it probably makes up more like 25% of those diagnosed. Visit the Lewy Body Dementia Association website for more information.

Frontotemporal Dementia

While the first three dementias listed here have a lot of similarities, Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) really sticks out. Although it is relatively rare, FTD tends to affect people earlier in life, as early as their 50s, and move much more rapidly. Rather than losing memory, people with FTD have changes in personality and difficulty with making good judgments and behaving appropriately. They might behave erratically or rashly, for example, in approaching strangers or eating foods. FTD then progresses to language loss, where the person has difficulty finding the words to express what they are thinking. Eventually, it also affects movement and memory. For more information and to find support, visit the Association for Frontotemporal Dementia.

Mild Cognitive Impairment

Your doctor may have told you that your loved one has a "Mild Cognitive Impairment," or MCI. People with MCI have more memory troubles than is normal, but are able to function in daily life--usually with the use of notes and reminders. Some people with MCI go on to have a progressive dementia like those listed above, but not always. MCI can also result from temporary factors such as side effects from medications or depression. You can take steps to talk to your doctor about ways to prevent further decline. Read more details about the various problems that fall under "MCI" here.

Other causes

There are many types of dementia, and those were just the most common. As Parkinson's Disease progresses, for example, it often leads to symptoms of dementia similar to Lewy Body dementia. Wernicke-Korsakoff disease is a dementia that results from vitamin deficiencies usually associated with prolonged alcohol misuse. Some rare dementias, such as Huntington's, are genetic and lead to rapid and progressive decline. To read more about less common forms of dementia, try starting here.

Or, if you are interested in reading a lot of medical jargon, you can check out the National Institute on Aging's page on the subject.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Research Roundup--Risk Factors

 by Emily Anderson

Remember when some people stopped wearing deodorant or drinking out of aluminum cans because they were worried about "heavy metals" causing Alzheimer's? Though I'm not going to encourage you to run out and drink a bunch of pop, I am happy to report that we now know aluminum does not contribute to the development of Alzheimer's. Nor do aspartame, silver tooth fillings, or flu shots, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Today we'll take a look at what are some of the risk factors for dementia. Some risk factors you have very little control over, but others can be addressed with lifestyle changes and support. Whether you are worried about an older adult in your life or looking down the road at how your golden years will be, knowing the risk factors can help you prepare for, delay, or even prevent the onset of dementia.

1. Age

Though Alzheimer's and other dementias don't always strike late in life, they do become more common as we age. After age 85, as many as a third of older adults will experience memory and cognitive problems. There are a lot of theories about why this happens, but in part it may be that just like our joints and other organs, the brain wears out after a while.

2. Family history

Whether it's genes, habits, or environment, if members of your immediate family have had dementia, your risk increases as well. This is especially true if more than one person in your family has been affected.

3. Genes

Having particular combinations of genes can put you at a higher risk for dementia—or protect you from it! There are certain types of dementias, particularly those that start before age 60, which are strongly tied to a specific gene set. If you know a family member had an early onset dementia, you may be able to get genetic testing to see if you carry the same problematic genes. For most types of dementia, though, we know that genes play some role, but it's not clear how much.

4. Race

African Americans and Latinos in the United States are at a higher risk for dementia, probably as a result of a higher risk for other health problems and environmental risk factors.

5. Gender

Though men and women are just as likely to get dementia, women tend to live longer, putting them at higher risk. There is also some evidence that women decline more rapidly once the disease starts.

6. Head trauma

The dangers of concussions have gotten press lately due to some famous athletes who have had trouble, but it’s not just full-contact sports that can lead to problems later. Veterans and people who had a serious fall, for example, are at higher risk as well.

7. Heart health

Sometimes dementia is caused by "covert vascular brain injuries," essentially brain damage arising from the pounding of high blood pressure and little strokes. High blood pressure also contributes to massive, debilitating strokes. The risk is particularly strong if you have high blood pressure during your middle ages, putting both your heart and your brain at risk.

8. Overall health

People who are generally unhealthy in other ways are at an increased risk for dementia. This includes physical fitness, nutrition, smoking, controlling diabetes, and socializing.

9. Depression

A long-term history of depression doubles the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, particularly if they were severe or frequent episodes of depression. Be aware, though, that depression later in life can also be a first warning sign of dementia, in addition to being a risk factor. 
It's a long list, but the good news is that you can control many of these risk factors. Heart health, mental health, overall fitness, even protecting your brain from trauma--these are all in your hands! Take your own physical and mental health seriously and you could drastically improve your chances of healthy aging. If you haven't taken time to do so lately, try to visit your doctor to check for risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes. It's not too late to help your older loved ones be healthier, either--regular exercise and mental stimulation have been shown to hold off cognitive decline for as long as ten years
Want to read more about the risk factors for dementia? Try starting here.
Take action now to set your healthy aging in motion! Check out these tips for maintaining your brain and improving your overall health.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Get Smart- Digital Spotlight

by Emily Anderson

Fall is a busy time for families, but apparently a quiet time for community classes. Two opportunities we wrote about last time, "Better Choices, Better Health" and the "Where to Turn Conference" are coming up soon. If you'd like to read more about them, click here.

To change things up a little, this month we would like to spotlight some digital resources for caregivers. Watching YouTube videos of kittens is relaxing, but this list of videos has practical tips and ideas for caring for you loved one that will make your life easier.

1. Video Caregiving

This is a collection of less-than-ten-minute videos covering everything from emotions in caregiving to tips on how to provide personal care like turning a person in bed. Some are a little dated-looking, but the advice is good. At the top of the list are two tabs -- make sure to check out both the videos on Alzheimer's and those on caregiving. The full site for this nonprofit sells DVDS, but this set is all free.

Especially good for: Practical tips

2. Johns Hopkins Caregiving Series

We talk a lot about dementia and other aging related concerns on this blog, but many people become caregivers when cancer strikes a loved one. These ten videos are directed toward people caring for someone with cancer, but still consider looking at them even that doesn't describe your loved one. It has some good thoughts on having difficult conversations, preparing for the future, and taking care of yourself.

Especially good for: End of life planning

3. Lift Caregiving

If you haven't heard of TED talks before, you're about to get a delightful taste! This is actually a compilation of TED talks given by various people in different cities around the world. It's not very practically helpful, but it does offer some interesting thoughts to ponder and wonder at.

Especially good for: When you need a little inspiration