Family Care

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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There is treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.  Realistically, Alzheimer’s gives ample time to be proactive.  It is a slowly progressive neurological disease that unfolds over the course of several decades. Treatment involves being proactive rather than reactive.  These are the steps we all need to take beginning now. Assessment.  We all have wellness plans that are managed through annual physicals with our physicians.  We need to include annual memory assessment by a memory expert as a part of this plan.  The assessment should, at the minimum, thoroughly assess short-term memory by means of a challenging, standardized memory test and be administered by a memory expert. Treat short-term memory before it changes.  We seem to lose track of the fact that we took notes in school to manage short-term memory.  It never worked like a muscle.  It takes time, focus, and effort […]

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Does taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement help prevent or delay cognitive decline?  In 2012, Mayo Clinic Health Letter (March 2012) reviewed well-conducted research concluding that many vitamins and minerals that we used to think prevented diseases may not help after all.  Furthermore, there are consistent findings that under some circumstances vitamins and supplements may cause harm – even use of a multivitamin in those who are well nourished may slightly increase the risk of premature death. A recent editorial, “Enough is enough: stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements,”  in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2013, 59: 851) pushed the issue even further.  The journal published three articles presenting data that indicate no benefits from a multivitamin/mineral supplement in well-nourished adults. A review of primary prevention studies focused on community dwelling adults with no nutritional deficiencies.  There was no clear […]

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In 2004 the best available research indicated that supplementation with vitamin E slowed Alzheimer’s disease.  A major clinical trial at the time indicated that taking 2000 IU of vitamin E per day delayed placement in care facilities by several months compared to placebo.  By the way, treatment with selegiline (a type of antidepressant) produced the same effect.  Another study at the time demonstrated that eating a diet high in vitamin E was correlated with higher mental function in men and women aged 65 – 100.  Hence, many were taking high doses of vitamin E and supplementation was the standard of care for Alzheimer’s disease. However, there were concerns regarding such a high dose of vitamin E as it produced side effects such as potentiating the effects of anticoagulants such as aspirin and Coumadin and increasing bruising and risk of bleeding.  […]

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One way to understand progressive changes resulting from dementia is to compare them to the changes that occur as a result of human development.  Dementia unfolds as reverse development.  As a general rule, those skills we learn later in life (e.g., managing investments, complex technology, doing a checkbook, and writing poetry) decline earlier than those learn earlier in life (e.g., toileting, dressing, and language).  The major difference is that as we develop from infancy, we constantly learn new skills and information.  The opposite is true for most dementias.  Learning new skills becomes increasingly difficult or impossible.   Those who are demented must be managed based on skills that are already there and those skills progressively deteriorate.  Dementia is a backward moving target. The good news is that we can learn a lot about managing dementia by understanding and using principles of […]

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Alzheimer’s disease unfolds over the course of decades. In the early stages (as discussed in part one), the afflicted person displays increasing loss of short-term memory and becomes increasingly disengaged from activities. Higher level, complex skills such as doing a checkbook and using a computer become more of a challenge. Older, overlearned skills work well whereas learning new skills or habits become increasingly difficult. Rehabilitation is self-generated if started early. If memory loss becomes severe enough to meet the criteria for dementia, rehabilitation must be accomplished by others (e.g., family, home care, or facilities) as independence is lost. The goal of treatment and rehabilitation is not to restore memory but rather to increasingly mold the environment to take advantage of learned habits and skills and keep the person with memory loss engaged and active. Competence no longer matters. What matters […]

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Type 2 diabetes mellitus is associated with Mild Cognitive Impairment (often presenting as short-term memory loss that is either subjective or confirmed by rigorous memory tests) as well as dementia (moderate to severe short-term memory loss that causes a lack of independence). Furthermore, insulin resistance, the hall mark of adult onset or type 2 diabetes, increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Results from the Honolulu aging study provide an example of the association of the balance of glucose and insulin with risk of dementia. Study participants who had either very high or very low levels of serum insulin were more likely than those in between to become demented over the course of 5 years. Other studies, but not all, have shown this link between insulin resistance, impaired glucose metabolism, diabetes and dementia. You have probably read the headlines generated […]

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It’s interesting how we ignore the obvious. The latest article from the New York Times series, “The Vanishing Mind,” focuses on treatment for advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The title of the series has it wrong. The mind does not vanish. Rather it becomes limited and inflexible. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the client (yes, even those with severe cognitive decline are our clients and deserve to be treated as such) becomes unable to adapt to the environment. The environment must be adapted to the client – personalized care. We don’t expect more of children than they are capable and mold their environment to meet their competence but we don’t give those with Alzheimer’s the same courtesy. We expect them to adapt to our convenience and needs. I have often said that if I have to go to a facility, don’t make me play […]

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I was recently confronted with a situation that has caused me to again rethink the use and abuse of the power that we have as professionals- especially those with the title of “doctor.”  In my line of work, I am often confronted with difficult and emotional decisions that involve personal rights and freedoms.  I provide opinions regarding the capacity of persons to drive, manage finances, and live independently.  Most of the cases I am involved with involve various degrees of memory loss, sometimes to the point of impairment known as dementia.   Dementia presents as an irreversible loss of ability and coping skills.  Depending on the severity of the dementia, rights such as the freedom to come and go as one pleases must be removed for safety.  These are often gut wrenching for both the afflicted individual and those who love […]

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