Entries in dementia (32)


Reading, Writing May Help Stall Mental Decline

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Dementia, the severe decline in mental abilities, such as memory and reasoning, affects four to five million people in the United States, most of whom are elderly. A study in the journal Neurology finds that keeping the mind active, specifically by reading and writing, can help prevent mental deterioration.

Researchers studied 294 elderly people for six years before their deaths at an average age of 89 and found that those who took part in "mentally stimulating activities" -- like reading and writing -- over the course of their lives had a slower rate of mental decline as compared to those who hadn't.

In fact, those subjects who frequently took part in mental activity late in their lives decreased the decline of their mental faculties by about 32 percent.

Researchers believe that it is important to begin partaking in mental activity during childhood and to maintain it well into your later years.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


General Anesthesia Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia in Elderly

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study shows that senior citizens who go under general anesthesia during medical procedures may experience an increased rate of dementia.

General anesthesia is used to make a patient unconscious and unable to feel pain or discomfort during medical procedures. Often, anesthesia is delivered through intravenous drugs or inhaled gases.

Elderly patients frequently develop a conditioned known as post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) after major surgeries. Experts believe that POCD may be a precursor to lasting dementia.

In a study, researchers in France followed over 7,000 patients who did not suffer from dementia and analyzed data taken from those patients over a span of ten years.

Over 22 percent of those who had a medical history including general anesthesia developed dementia. That rate is 35 percent higher than in patients without a history of general anesthesia, 18.7 percent of whom developed dementia.

It is possible that other health conditions contributed to a higher rate of dementia, as senior citizens who undergo procedures requiring general anesthesia may be less healthy than those who did not require those procedures.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Rock Star Nearly Loses Career with Correctable Dementia

Courtesy Dick Wagner(NEW YORK) -- Dick Wagner had enjoyed a successful life on stage, playing lead guitar for bands like Alice Cooper, Aerosmith and Kiss, when he had a stroke and a heart attack in 2007.

"I woke up from a coma after two weeks with a paralyzed left arm," said Wagner, now 70 and living in Arizona.  "My profession as a guitarist, I thought was over."

He and Cooper co-wrote the majority of the band's top-selling songs, including the 1975 hit, "Welcome to My Nightmare."

But Wagner's own personal horror show had just begun.  He worked hard at rehabilitation, but new symptoms began to appear, including mental fuzziness and an odd gait.

"I couldn't turn to the left as I walked, only to the right, and I would do a spiral and fall," he said.  "I fell completely flat on my face in the driveway on the concrete.  I didn't know what had happened to me."

Another fall by his swimming pool precipitated a blood clot and surgery.  Wagner was convinced his career was over.

But in 2011, Wagner was diagnosed with NPH, or normal pressure hydrocephalus, a condition caused by a build-up of spinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain, which puts pressure on nerves that control the legs, bladder and cognitive function.

Doctors at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix surgically placed a shunt in his head to redirect the fluid through a tube under the skin to his abdominal cavity.  A small amount is drained every day for the rest of his life.

Now, Wagner is back on tour with a band in Denmark.

"I am like a new man almost overnight," he said.  "For five years, I couldn't even pick up a guitar -- I didn't have the strength or the coordination."

NPH is a condition that typically strikes after the age of 55 and often mimics the dementia of Alzheimer's and the impaired motor skills of Parkinson's disease.  An estimated 5 percent of all dementia patients actually have NPH, which is correctable, according to Dr. Joseph M. Zabramski, the neurosurgeon who placed Wagner's shunt at Barrow.

In Wagner's case, it wasn't the initial stroke that deprived him of his musical ability, but NPH, which took away his coordination and timing.

"The stroke he suffered usually produces relatively mild deficits, and over time patients are able to resume most normal activities," Zabramski said.  "Dick cannot raise his left arm as well as he used to, but his fine motor function in his left hand is excellent."

"Music is Dick's life and so he tried to resume playing but couldn't," Zabramski said.  "Once we had the shunt in place I saw the improvements. ...Gradually, much to my pleasure, the old Dick Wagner returned."

An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Americans suffer from NPH, a number that is on the rise because of an aging population, according to Zabramski, who is chief of cerebrovascular surgery at Barrow.

NPH is diagnosed with a CT scan or MRI, followed by a spinal tap to drain fluid from the brain.  If the patient's condition improves, NPH is the likely cause.

The reason NPH is easy to miss is that the "triad of symptoms" are so insidious: difficulty walking, failing memory and urinary urgency, all of which go hand in hand with old age.

"None of us wants to admit there is anything wrong when we have a little trouble walking and balancing," Zabramski said.  "We just think we are getting older.  It's not until it progresses and threatens our independence that we seek evaluation."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Vitamin D and Calcium Taken Together Offer No Help for Dementia

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- The latest research into one possible treatment for dementia in women proved to be somewhat disappointing, but experts think it still might hold some promise.
Past research has suggested that vitamin D might protect against memory loss and decline in the aging brain. A study in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at 2,000 women whose average age was 71. In all, they took 400 international units of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium together every day for an average of eight years.
But the women developed cognitive impairments -- everything from memory trouble to serious dementia -- at the same rate as a comparison group given placebo pills.  They found that vitamin D and calcium supplements taken together in low doses offered no protection against dementia.
Still, the authors say they learned how calcium and vitamin D might have conflicting effects. That points researchers toward a more definitive study, testing higher levels of vitamin D alone, with higher hopes it will do some good.

"I think the definitive study will just look at the effects of vitamin D," said lead study author Rebecca Rossom, from HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research, a nonprofit arm of a health maintenance organization based in Minnesota.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Super-Agers: How Some 80-Year-Olds Can Have the Memory of a 50-Year-Old

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers are looking at the brains of "Super-Agers," the small percentage of people who retain a sharp mind even as they age well into their 80s.

Watch ABC News' World News report on Super-Agers:

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Genes May Be Key to Long, Dementia-Free Life

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A study published online Wednesday in the journal Neurology shows some evidence that protection from dementia clusters in families.

Lead investigator Jeremy M. Silverman, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and his colleagues examined 277 male veterans, aged 75 and older, who were free of dementia symptoms. They conducted blood tests to measure levels of a substance called C-reactive protein in the men's blood. Since high levels of C-reactive protein tend to correspond to high levels of dementia in younger elderly patients, some assume those elderly patients with high levels of C-reactive protein who do not develop dementia are somehow resistant to cognitive decline.

The researchers then interviewed 1,329 of the test subjects' relatives to assess their rates of dementia. What they found was that the rates of dementia in the families of patients who exhibited resistance was lower than the rate seen in families of patients who did not show resistance.

To validate these findings further, investigators repeated the study with an older group of 51 patients and surveyed 202 of their relatives. This group returned the same results. In both study populations, patients with resistance to dementia were over 30 percent less likely to have relatives with dementia.

Since C-reactive protein is not always linked to dementia, the conclusions drawn should be met with a critical eye.

"[Dementia] is a very complicated disorder, and the findings in a study like this need to be reproduced in other studies before they are going to be transformative," says Dr. Eric Larson, vice president for research at the Group Health Research Institute based in Seattle.

Still, while the study does not show exactly what is protective in these men, it offers some tantalizing possibilities for future investigation. Silverman's group is already examining the genes of other patients who seem to be protected from dementia and taking note of similarities.

"This study provides one more piece of evidence that 'the cure' may be staring at us from the faces of these survivors, if we could only make out specifically what it was," says Richard Coselli, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "It also gives us further reason to be optimistic that a cure is not impossible... nature seems to have already found a way."  

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NFL Retirees Suffer Brain Damage, Study Finds 

JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/GettyImages(NEW YORK) -- A recent study showed that over 40 percent of retired NFL players suffered from problems such as dementia and depression, adding to a heaping mound of evidence that recurring sports-related head traumas can result in long-term neurological problems, Health Day reports.

Researchers from the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas analyzed 34 ex-professional football players, with an average age of 62, on such things as memory, problem-solving, reasoning and behavior. They found that 20 of the men tested normal while the remaining retirees suffered from memory and thinking deficits, depression or a combination of both.

Dr. John Hart, the author of the study, said they found that many men were depressed but weren't aware of it. He said the cognitive impairments were more than what is expected for their ages, and noted that many of the men had damage to their brain's white matter, which is a marker to look for, says Health Day.

Hart's study included ex-NFL athletes from North Texas. Researchers also analyzed the brains of 26 people from the general population with no signs of mental deficits, and matched in age, education and IQ.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pumping Iron to Prevent Dementia?

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Resistance training could be an important part of reversing memory decline in elderly women with mild memory problems, according to a study published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada studied 86 women between the ages of 70 and 80 who had mild cognitive impairment, a condition where people have problems with memory or other brain functions that are noticeable but not severe enough to interfere with daily life. Predictably, this group of people is at increased risk of developing dementia. The women were divided into groups that underwent resistance training, aerobic exercise, or balance and tone training twice a week for six months.

The resistance training group had significant improvements in performance on a common test of executive brain functioning called the Stroop Test. They also had improvements in a separate test of associative memory, which refers to the ability of one thought or memory to trigger another. For example, to most humans, the color green means go. Impairment in associative memory is common in early Alzheimer’s dementia.

Using functional MRI studies among the groups, the researchers demonstrate increased blood flow to key areas of the brain that was associated with the improved performance on the cognitive tests. However, unlike in prior studies, there was no benefit of the aerobic training group on cognitive testing, though their cardiovascular performance was improved.

This is the first study that demonstrates the benefits of resistance exercises in those who already suffer from cognitive impairment. And while this is a small study that provides preliminary evidence of benefit, study author Teresa Liu-Ambrose says, “Exercise is attractive as a prevention strategy for dementia as it is universally accessible and cost-effective.”

Worldwide, one case of dementia is detected every seven seconds, and with the aging of baby boomers, those numbers are on the rise.

So is it time to start recommending strength training to the elderly, especially those with cognitive impairment to try and ward off dementia?

Zaven S. Khachaturian, president of the Campaign to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by 2020, finds the research promising, but says more research is needed in larger studies to confirm these findings.

Dr. Richard Caselli, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic, agrees.

“When advising patients, I do inform them that physical activity, exercise, and good fitness generally is healthful,” he says. “We have known that for years as regards to cardiovascular health, so even if we turn out to be wrong about possibly preventing or slowing dementia onset, it is still good medical advice.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Music Brings Patients 'Back to Life'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Henry Dryer sits slumped over the tray attached to his wheelchair.  He doesn't speak, and rarely moves, until a nursing home worker puts his headphones on.  Then Dryer's feet start to shuffle, his folded arms rock back and forth, and he sings out loud in perfect sync with his favorite songs.

"I feel a band of love, dreams," said Dryer, 92, who has dementia.  "It gives me the feeling of love, romance!"

Henry is one of seven patients profiled in the documentary Alive Inside, a heartwarming look at the power of music to help those in nursing homes.

"There are a million and a half people in nursing homes in this country," director Michael Rossato-Bennett told ABC News.  "When I saw what happened to Henry, whenever you see a human being awaken like that, it touches something deep inside you."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting 5.4 million Americans.  The disease swiftly robs patients of their memories and other brain functions, forcing most to live out their final years in nursing homes.

Rossato-Bennett said he took on the documentary project to promote Music & Memory, a nonprofit organization that brings iPods with personalized music to dementia patients in nursing home care.

"When I end up in a nursing home, I'll want to have my music with me," said Dan Cohen, executive director of Music & Memory.  "There aren't many things in nursing homes that are personally meaningful activities.  Here's the one easy thing that has a significant impact."

Cohen said the personalized playlists, chosen by loved ones, make patients light up.

"They're more alert, more attentive, more cooperative, more engaged," he said.  "Even if they can't recognize loved ones and they've stopped speaking, they hear music and they come alive."

Alive Inside
premieres Wednesday, April 18 at the Rubin Museum in New York City.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Alzheimer's Disease: Dutch Village Doubles as Nursing Home

Isabel van Zuthem(AMSTERDAM) -- A Dutch village dubbed "The Truman Show" for dementia patients is getting praise from Alzheimer's experts in the U.S.

The tree-lined streets of Hogewey, a tiny village at the edge of Amsterdam, boast shops, restaurants, a movie theater and a hairdresser. Its 23 apartments are carefully crafted to feel like home to 152 residents.

But Hogewey is not a real village; it's a nursing home.

"Our director compared it to a theater," said Isabel van Zuthem, Hogewey's information officer. "The frontstage is what all the residents experience as a normal way of living, their normal home. But backstage, we are a nursing home. Everything is arranged to give all residents all the care they need. But they feel like they're living a normal life, and that's what we think is very important."

The supermarket cashier, the restaurant manager: all staff who work incognito, specially trained to care for people with dementia. Most of the residents think it's a real village.

"We wouldn't lie about it, of course. If asked, a staff member would say they're living somewhere where they get the care and support they need," said van Zuthem, adding that most residents will forget the response 15 minutes later. "People with dementia, they go back in time. They live in a different world."

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting 5.4 million Americans. The disease swiftly robs patients of their memories and other brain functions, forcing most to live out their final years in a nursing home.

"Many times, a nursing home is very institutional: nurses walk around in white clothes; people sit together in big rooms to eat meals. We decided that's not how we would like to live when we get old," said Van Zuthem, adding that Hogewey residents are more at ease and need less medication because they feel at home.

While Hogewey has been criticized for creating a fantasy world where nurses pretend to be neighbors, experts say eldercare in the U.S. could benefit from a little improv.

"I'm personally fascinated by the concept of a self-contained village," said Marianne Smith, assistant professor of nursing specializing in dementia care at the University of Iowa. "I don't think it is living out a fantasy as much as it is accommodating the person's desire to live a normal life in a community-like environment....The program is surely better than the usual nursing homes that can resemble hospitals."

Smith said the village design allows dementia patients to experience the world as they currently understand it, even if it's in the past.

"That's the kindest, most compassionate way to care for them," she said. "The village allows them to be comfortable where they are, and it plays to their strengths. They can still walk, they can still talk, and they can still be with other people."

But the approach isn't cheap. Hogewey cost roughly $25 million dollars to build.

"You can imagine this is not exactly a low-budget solution to a problem that is widespread and increasing daily," said Dr. Richard Caselli, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "But heck, if you can provide a safe surrogate environment where patients who cannot really think clearly can wander about enjoyably, that would seem to have many advantages."

The freedom to walk outside, shop, visit with friends or just relax can make patients happier and less agitated, meaning fewer mood-altering medications.

"Environmental approaches to reducing both cognitive and behavioral problems associated with dementia are really the key to improving quality of life for these patients without excess medication," said Dr. Paul Newhouse, director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Cognitive Medicine.

Newhouse agreed Hogewey's approach may be the kinder way to care for people with late-stage dementia.

"In fact, I would argue that ethically this is a better solution than what we currently do, namely putting patients in 'mini hospitals' and pretending that this is an appropriate care environment," he said.

Hogewey's frontstage-backstage setup has earned it comparisons to 'The Truman Show," the Jim Carrey movie about a man unknowingly living on an elaborate film set.

"I doubt that there is any effort in the Netherlands facility to 'fool' the residents into thinking they are not being taken care of for dementia," said Dr. Mark Tuszynski, director of University of California at San Diego's Center for Neural Repair. "Instead, it sounds as though they are trying to create the most naturalistic environment possible for patients. Sounds like a great place."

Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, chief of biological psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said the idea could be "a game changer" in Alzheimer's care.

"The old saying, 'Treat the person and not the disease' is particularly true in end-stage dementia," he said. "All of us might actually then look forward to getting old!"

While Hogewey might be the most elaborate village-inspired nursing home, it's not the first. In fact Towsley Village Memory Care Center in Chelsea, Mich., is home to 100 dementia patients living in four distinct neighborhoods, complete with '50s-style coffee shops.

"Facilities in the U.S. have had these villages since the mid-1980s," said Geri Hall, a clinical nurse specialist at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. "The biggest practical challenge is that it requires space and special construction, potentially increasing the cost of care. I can't see many American facilities using nurses at a cash register. There are so few [registered nurses] in long-term care, they are pretty busy."

But even small-scale adjustments, like having furniture and entertainment from the familiar decades, can help Alzheimer's patients feel more at home.

"The 'deception' is really adjusting our reality to allow the person with dementia to be in a place that is comforting and safe," said Cynthia Barton, a nurse practitioner at the University of California at San Francisco's Memory and Aging Center. "It is unrealistic to think that they will be able to retain new information or remember our repeated attempts to correct them, so we emphasize strategies to make people feel safe and well cared for."

Barton said she wishes there was a place like Hogewey for her aunt, who currently lives in a nursing home in Connecticut.

"I'd love for her to be able to live in a facility like this that would so much more appropriately meet her needs," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio