Music and Brain Health

Penn State researchers remind us that while listening to music promotes cognitive health, participating is even better—no matter what our age. https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-blog/2017/january/playing-an-instrument-better-for-your-brain-than-just-listening

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When Alzheimer’s Disease Strikes in Middle-Age

Two years ago, actress Julianne Moore received the Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards for her portrayal of a Columbia University professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the movie Still Alice. The poignant film brought some much-needed publicity to the fact that younger people can develop Alzheimer’s, which is usually assumed to be a disease of people older than 65.

While fewer than 5 percent of patients develop the disease at an early age, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that as many as 200,000 Americans have early-onset Alzheimer’s, most of them in their 40s and 50s. (Early-onset Alzheimer’s is also referred to as “younger-onset Alzheimer’s”). This form of the disease has been described as particularly cruel, as it strikes at a time when patients are often otherwise quite healthy and fit, and are beginning to reap the rewards of working hard and raising a family.

This can be particularly hard on caregivers. Early-onset Alzheimer’s often creates even greater burdens for families than the more common late-onset form of the disease. Trying to care for a spouse with the disease—who most likely can no longer work—while raising a family brings a whole new set of challenges to caregiving. That’s why, often, caregiving duties also fall on the children of these families.

Individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s and their caregivers face a unique set of challenges. Because no one expects a younger person to have the disease, it may be misdiagnosed, and people may not understand or have sympathy for someone living with it. Employers may think someone is simply “losing it” or a spouse may become irritated that their partner in life seems to be letting important tasks go undone.

One of the first things caregivers may face is the question from people who say “He’s too young to have Alzheimer’s!” That’s why it’s important for caregivers to become educated. They should learn about financial resources, such as Social Security’s Compassionate Allowances. Families should also know that early-onset Alzheimer’s has a genetic component to it, which means that it runs in families. The genetic connection is much stronger in early-onset Alzheimer’s, meaning that if a person’s parent or grandparent is diagnosed with the disease, the person’s chances of developing the condition are much higher compared to those whose family member has later-onset Alzheimer’s.

There is a genetic test that can tell if a person has an increased chance of getting the disease. Getting tested is a very personal decision. Before deciding on whether to get the test, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional about the options. Getting tested could lead to an accurate diagnosis, allowing patient and family to plan ahead for care, to ensure the family will be taken care of, and to begin treatment as early as possible. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are some treatment options available that may help ease its symptoms.

To find more information about early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, visit the websites of the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association.

The information in this article is not intended to take the place of the advice of your doctor. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have questions about Alzheimer’s disease and genetic testing.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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What You Learned About Healthy Fats Was Probably Wrong

For years, we were told that for optimum health, we should cut back on dietary fat. Many Americans dutifully scrutinized the labels of everything from snack foods to sandwich spreads, with the goal of selecting products labeled as “low-fat.” Yet many of these products replaced fat with unhealthy sugars and refined carbohydrates, making the “low-fat” products as bad for us as their fat-containing counterparts—or even worse.

Experts now tell us that while we should continue to avoid bad fats, we should also consume more of the kinds of fat—including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—that are actually good for our health. We need a variety of fats in our diet for energy, to help us digest vitamins and other nutrients, for blood clotting, and even to help us maintain a healthy weight.

During 2016, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a statement saying that eating healthier fats could save millions of lives around the world. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science & Policy in Boston, stated, “Worldwide, policymakers are focused on reducing saturated fats. Yet, we found there would be a much bigger impact on heart disease deaths if the priority was to increase the consumption of polyunsaturated fats as a replacement for saturated fats and refined carbohydrates, as well as to reduce trans fats.”

According to the AHA, good fats help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, which can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Here is a review to help you make a good choice of fats in your diet:

Fats that are good for you

Foods containing polyunsaturated fats include corn, soybean and sunflower oils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and fatty fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel.

Monounsaturated fat is found in some of those same foods, and also in avocados, and in plant-based liquid oils such as olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sesame oils.

Eat only sparingly

Saturated fats are found in meat, cheese and many other dairy products, and in palm and coconut oils. The AHA recommends that no more than six percent of the calories we consume in a day come from saturated fats.

Avoid entirely

Worst of all are trans fats (also known as trans fatty acids). Most trans fats come in the form of partially hydrogenated oils created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to keep it solid and to increase shelf life. Trans fats are used in many processed foods, so check the label and avoid them. Trans fats are so bad for us that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered food companies to phase out the use of partially hydrogenated oils, which are the major source of trans fats in the American diet.

So now that we know the difference between good and bad fats, does this mean we can consume all we want of the good ones? It’s important to remember that all fats have the same number of calories, so we can gain weight even if we stick to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

If you have questions about your own nutritional needs, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a news release from the American Heart Association.

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Communicating When Your Valentine Has Alzheimer’s Disease

Valentine’s Day is the traditional occasion when spouses and other couples express their devotion and affection to one another. Most couples find it a meaningful day to take a little extra time to tell how much they mean to each other.

Yet this Valentine’s Day, millions of couples will find themselves expressing their devotion and affection in a different way than in years past. Spouses who are providing care for a husband, wife or partner who has Alzheimer’s or other dementia may no longer be able to connect with their loved one in old-established patterns as their loved one is changed by the disease. And Alzheimer’s caregivers provide hands-on care, supervision and health care management—a heavy load that grows with time and changes the relationship profoundly.

Many caregivers report that it is the change in their spouse’s ability to communicate that is most difficult and painful. Their partner’s memory loss means they can’t share many memories that were precious to them. People with Alzheimer’s may be unable to find the right word, instead using a different or invented word for familiar objects. They may lose their train of thought. They may be disoriented and say things that aren’t true. Frustration and a continued loss of the ability to speak may leave them largely silent.

Yet it is heartening to know that these couples often find a way around the challenges. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s College of Nursing recently set out to focus not on the deficits these couples experience, but on their successes and the ways they have been able to adapt. Said study author Christine L. Williams, DNSc, “There is a knowledge gap regarding how couples affected by Alzheimer’s disease manage their relationship to sustain hope, connection, meaning and engagement. Instead of focusing our study on what wasn’t working in their relationships, we looked at patterns that support intimacy.”

Williams was inspired by her own parents: Her mother had Alzheimer’s and her father served as her mom’s caregiver. Williams devised the study to shed more light on the communication patterns that sustain spouse-caregiver relationships.

The study was based on observation of a group of couples in which one spouse had Alzheimer’s disease. The couples had been married for an average of 47 years; the spouses with dementia had an average age of 80, and the caregiver spouses age 77. Williams and her team recorded the interactions of these couples over the course of ten weeks, looking for clues as to the nature of their communication.

The team identified three overriding characteristics of the good interactions: (1) “engaging with compassion” (2) “patiently reaching out” and (3) “trusting in the existence of deep attachment.”

They also pinpointed several communication patterns that promoted successful interactions, including:

  • “News of the day”: Caregivers and spouses chatted about everyday activities of life.
  • “Sharing memories”: Caregiver spouses reminisced to the spouse with dementia about people and events from the past.
  • “Storytelling”: Caregiving spouses recounted a long and detailed story, even if the person with dementia provided little response.
  • “Delighting in the unexpected”: The caregiver expressed pleasure when the person with Alzheimer’s was able to respond more than expected.

“It was evident that caregiving spouses bore most of the responsibility in maintaining the caring relationship, but there was evidence that the spouse affected by Alzheimer’s disease actively participated as well,” said Williams.

The researchers noted that even the act of maintaining eye contact is a participation. They also found that when the spouse with Alzheimer’s was speaking, it was beneficial for the caregiver spouse not to interrupt or correct, but just to listen and affirm.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, reporting on a study from the Florida Atlantic University Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing (www.nursing.fau.edu). Read more about the study here.

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Expanding the Role of Meals on Wheels

Senior meal programs are about much more than food, says a report from Kaiser Health News.
http://khn.org/news/meals-on-wheels-wants-to-be-the-eyes-and-ears-for-hospitals-doctors

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Chair Yoga for Arthritis

Many people with arthritis take part in yoga to increase flexibility and control pain. Does chair yoga—yoga exercises performed from a chair rather than on a mat on the floor—offer similar benefits? http://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/chair-yoga-study.php

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Puzzle: Love Your Heart With Whole Grains

February is American Heart Month. There are so many good things we can do to promote heart health—and some of them are delicious! According to the American Heart Association, eating at least three servings of whole grains each day can add years to your life by lowering the risk of not only heart disease, but also cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity and other dangerous diseases and conditions.

What is a whole grain? The Whole Grains Council explains, “A grain is considered to be a whole grain as long as all three original parts—the bran, germ and endosperm—are still present in the same proportion as when the grain was growing in the fields.” (Learn more here.)

When some people think of “whole grains,” they think only of whole wheat. But that’s just the beginning. You have plenty of choices! For example, did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Delicious! Just don’t spoil the nutritional boost with a bunch of added fat and salt.

To find some other yummy whole grains, and ways you might eat them, check out this month’s puzzle. Click here to download your copy.

Need a little help? Click here for the puzzle solution.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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Blood Pressure and Dementia

An intriguing study released by the Alzheimer’s Association suggests that high blood pressure when we’re 80 or older might be a good thing. http://alz.org/documents_custom/high-bp_statement_011717.pdf

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Inactivity Risks for Dementia May Be Equal

You might think that if you do not have a genetic predisposition for dementia, your risk is lower. But researchers from McMaster University in Ontario say that leading a sedentary lifestyle carries a comparable risk. http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/article/couch-potatoes-face-same-chance-of-dementia-as-those-with-genetic-risk-factors

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After Visits, Family Wonder About Alzheimer’s Disease

The holidays are over and everything is getting back to normal – except, in the back of your mind, linger some nagging worries concerning one of the elderly relatives you visited. You wonder if this loved one could be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe you’ve shared your concerns with other family members, but no one’s quite sure what to do. They don’t want to offend the relative – and memory changes are normal as we age, aren’t they?

The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) offered this list of signs that might be of concern, and how to tell them from memory changes that are considered normal:

Memory loss. Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia. A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later. What’s normal: Forgetting names or appointments occasionally.

Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People with dementia often find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks. They may lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, placing a telephone call or playing a game. What’s normal: Occasionally forgetting why you came into a room or what you planned to say.

Problems with language. People with Alzheimer’s disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand. For example, they may be unable to find the toothbrush and instead ask for “that thing for my mouth.” What’s normal: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

Disorientation to time and place. People with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost in their own neighborhood, forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home. What’s normal: Forgetting the day of the week, or walking into another room and forgetting why you went there.

Poor or decreased judgment. Those with Alzheimer’s may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment, like giving away large sums of money. What’s normal: Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time.

Problems with abstract thinking. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex mental tasks; for example, they might forget what numbers are for or how they should be used. What’s normal: Finding it challenging to balance a checkbook.

Misplacing things. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places, such as an iron in the freezer or wristwatch in the sugar bowl. What’s normal: Misplacing keys or a wallet temporarily.

Changes in mood or behavior. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may show rapid mood swings—from calm to tears to anger—for no apparent reason. What’s normal: Occasionally feeling sad or moody.

Changes in personality. The personalities of people with dementia can change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful or dependent on a family member. What’s normal: People’s personalities do change somewhat with age. They may become less flexible or reluctant to try new things; however, normal changes are not generally dramatic.

Loss of initiative. A person with Alzheimer’s may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities. What’s normal: Sometimes feeling weary of work or social obligations.

If your loved one exhibited any of the above warning signs, it may be time to step in. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders causing dementia is an important step to getting appropriate treatment, care and support services.

Source: The Alzheimer’s Association, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.

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