Dementia

There has been a long standing debate about whether undergoing anesthesia can trigger dementia (see article by Roni Jacobson in Scientific American, October, 2014). Despite large, well-publicized studies claiming there is no significant association between anesthesia and dementia, there are too many cases to dismiss the phenomenon as coincidence. The cases appear to be statistical outliers in that they are not the norm. However, that does not make them any less real just infrequent. What is widely accepted is that a portion of those who undergo general anesthesia experience what is called “postoperative cognitive decline.” This marked by lapses of memory and attention (mild to severe delirium) that lasts from a few hours to a few weeks before it clears. Most who experience anesthesia do not show these effects for more than a very brief time and do not go […]

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The cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept (i.e., donepezil) have been available for treatment of dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease since the mid 1990s. It is clear that long term use of these medications slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (in those who tolerate them) and that discontinuing the medication after extended use produces a more rapid decline even in those so impaired that they are in skilled nursing facilities. Despite these findings, the cholinesterase inhibitors are often maligned, not used, or discontinued too soon because they do not produce dramatic effects and do not stop or reverse decline. One way to determine the efficacy of these medications is to determine if treatment reduces the burden that caregivers express (“Effects on caregiver burden of donepezil hydrochloride dosage increase to 10 mg in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” Nakamura et al. Patient Preference and […]

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We often get so focused on Alzheimer’s disease that we neglect other causes of memory loss and cognitive dysfunction.  Stroke is the second most likely cause of cognitive dysfunction after Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.  Furthermore, there is a complex interaction between cerebrovascular health and Alzheimer’s disease.  Post-stroke cognitive impairment may affect several domains of cognitive abilities such as attention (tracking the moment), memory (recalling new information and/or details of personal history), language (expressive and/or receptive speech), orientation (for time, place, and/or person), and executive functions (planning. judgment, reasoning, and/or social graces).  The effects of stroke may be temporary (e.g., TIA) or persisting depending on the size of the lesion and timing of treatment.  The effects may be severe (e.g., cause dementia) or mild (e.g., cause mild cognitive impairment) and may affect single skills or multiple skills. There are three […]

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I had the pleasure of being invited to observe a workshop by Teepa Snow (http://www.TeepaSnow.com).  The event was hosted by the Alzheimer’s Support Network and, to my great pleasure, was attended by staff from diverse facilities and organizations that provide dementia care.  Teepa is a very skillful and talented presenter/trainer.  Her focus was on doing.  She presented conceptual training in the form of role-plays of many challenges we face when trying to get into the world of someone who is demented.  Her teaching style focused on doing rather than saying.  She challenged but always coached participants into a success by offering specific prompts and modeling.  Caregiving is not an intellectual exercise but is a hands on, participatory activity. Teepa’s message is clear.  You must provide person-centered care to be effective in caring for those with severe cognitive decline.  We often […]

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Stress is a pervasive condition that affects our mental and physical functioning.  The term covers both situations that we may call “stressful” such as being told we have cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, caregiving for someone with dementia, or having to give a speech or our reaction to the stressful event such as racing heart, dry mouth, or worry.  Stress can be “negative,” as in being sued, having a car accident, or getting divorced, or “positive,” as in taking a vacation, getting married, or winning the lottery.  Stressors vary in terms of duration, intensity, novelty, and type.  The ranges of stressors includes threat of death, threat of bodily injury, illness, grief, divorce, grief, moving, night shift work, commuting, and noise. The formal study of stress started with the seminal book The Stress of Life by Hans Selye that was published about […]

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How does caregiving unfold over time?  Diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease evolve over time – usually decades.  The person who is forgetful can manage early changes in memory.  But as the disease progresses, there is an increasing need for external guidance, prompts, and caregiving as the problems extend beyond just forgetfulness.  There are seven general stages of memory loss per the global deterioration scale.  The following presents general needs for care at each stage. Stage one – normal.  This is the stage that we all hope to stay.  There are the typical “senior moments.”  No caregiving is needed. Stage two – forgetfulness.  In this stage there is minor consistent forgetfulness and the person in this stage is typically aware that there are changes.  There may be an incident or pattern that raises minor concerns.  There is no need for caregiving […]

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Alzheimer’s disease unfolds over the course of decades.  Despite the intensive search, there are no accurate and reliable biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease.  Diagnosis is based on a combination of factors including details of course and history gathered from the person who has memory loss as well as family and/or friends.   There must also be a medical work up searching for treatable causes of memory loss such as thyroid function, status of diabetes, anemia, and imaging studies.  The standard of care also requires cognitive evaluation to map out strengths and weaknesses and stage the disease.  Finally, diagnosis requires clinical judgment. There is a push for a new set of criteria that diagnoses Alzheimer’s disease into three stages and is based on the fact that Alzheimer’s disease begins well before symptoms emerge (Practical Neurology, 2013, March/April, 34-35)).  The first stage is […]

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To quote from my article for August 2011,  “It is clear that anesthetic agents may be neurotoxic for some and more so after 60.”  This statement was predicated on findings from that time suggesting that undergoing general anesthesia may cause cognitive decline especially in the elderly.  Delirium and postoperative cognitive decline are the two most common untoward effects of surgery.  Delirium is transient and obvious but may last days to weeks.  Postoperative cognitive decline is a more long lasting condition, often subtle at first. But not so fast, understanding is a process that evolves over time and must integrate new information as it becomes available.  A new study (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, May 2013) states that there is no association between anesthesia and dementia.  The data were obtained from medical records on nearly 2000 cases.  Results were based on individuals that […]

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I keep hoping for more useful research on treatments and management techniques that may potentially benefit those with memory loss and their caregivers.  There are three recent studies that caught my attention as examples of movement in the right direction. First, “The effect of stimulation therapy and donepezil on cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease” (BMC Neurology, 2012, 12, 59).  The study compared the effects of stimulation therapy, treatment with donepezil (Aricept), or to combined treatment during the first year after diagnosis with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.  Stimulation therapy consisted of multiple elements including physical activity (e.g., dancing, walking, fitness training), as well as cognitive and social activities (e.g., reading, listening to music, crossword puzzles, reminiscence) for at least 30 minutes each day 5 times per week.  Donepezil (or placebo) was started at 5 mg and increased after four weeks […]

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“Alzheimer’s epidemic puts advisers – and their practices – at risk” (InvestmentNews.com, February 26, 2013).  “Clients with Alzheimer’s pose “scary” legal risks” (InvestmentNews.com, February 13, 2012).  “Money woes can be early clue to Alzheimer’s” (New York Times, October 2010).  The worry has been there for some time.  The problem of risk management is as clear as is the solution.  Alzheimer’s disease unfolds over the course of 30 or so years, progresses slowly, and does not produce disability until well advanced.  Progressive dementias unfold like reverse development.   First in, last out.   We learn walking and talking very early.  Managing technology and complex decision-making comes much later.  It’s no wonder that complex decision-making, like investing and managing money and legal decisions, are the first signs of decline.  It appears to sneak up on us – but it does not. Alzheimer’s disease gives […]

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