Self Help

There is increasing empirical evidence that a life style that includes at least moderate, consistent exercise improves cognitive and health outcomes as we age.   It seems logical that exercise would be helpful to improve outcomes of those with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease where there is progressive loss of neuromuscular abilities.  Fortunately there is an encouraging review that serves as the basis for this article: “An evidence based exercise regimen for patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease” (Brain Sciences, 2013, 3, 87-100 http://qxmd.com/r/24961308) Parkinson’s disease is, by some accounts, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder and affects 4-5 million of those over 50.  The primary symptoms involve motor control: resting tremor, slow response initiation (called bradykinesia), muscular rigidity, and postural instability.  It is now clear that exercise improves physical function, self-reported quality of life, strength, and gait speed […]

The most frequent question I am asked is “What can I do to improve my memory?”  The answer depends upon which type of memory you want to improve.  Practice, repetition, study, modeling, and imitation can all improve long-term memory.  Long-term memory involves reinforcing what is already stored in the brain.  It works like a muscle and strengthens and endures from use. Short-term memory is a different issue.  Short-term memory is the process of storing new information.  It requires learning and is demonstrated by memory or skills that will be demonstrated at some future time.  This memory system does not work like a muscle.  It usually takes time and effort to learn new things.  You remember best those things when you slow down, attend to, think about something.  Hence anything given less than  one minute of thought will fade from your […]

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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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As we age we need to constantly work toward managing healthy behaviors such as exercising, eating healthy, and being engaged in social/intellectual activities.  These are proven ways to mitigate the effects of aging on health, wellness, mood, and memory.  It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to start this lifestyle  earlier in life to maximize effectiveness. A new study (“Alcohol consumption and cognitive decline in early old age,” Neurology 2014, , in press)  adds our drinking behaviors to the formula of proactive lifestyle.  Drinking too much alcohol from at least middle age onward may accelerate cognitive decline.  The study reports the findings from the Whitehall longitudinal study of 7153 British civil servants 67% of who were male.  The study began in 1985-87 with cognitive tests administered in 1997-8 and administered twice during the next ten years.  Participants were aged […]

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Depression is not part of normal aging and is one of the most common, treatable problems in older adults.  Depression in older adults is under-recognized and undertreated.  It may impair independence and make health problems worse.  The symptoms of depression include: Depressed mood most of the time Loss of interest or pleasure Disturbed sleep (too much or too little) Weight loss or gain Fatigue or loss of energy Feelings of worthlessness or guilt Difficulty in concentration Difficulty in decision making Restlessness or agitation Frequent thoughts of death or suicide There are three basic types of depression.  Major depressive disorder is characterized by having 5 or more of the above symptoms nearly all the time for at least two weeks.  Often those with major depression feel hopeless, anxious, worry, and loss of pleasure.  Minor depression is characterized by having 2-4 of […]

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I have had a number of clients over the years that have come to me with concerns about their memory that seemed just fine.  For example, there was the 82-year-old woman who was a Smith College graduate in physics.  I evaluated her four times over the course of ten years.   On the first evaluation, she tested among the highest I have ever seen – including short-term memory.  However, on each of four subsequent evaluations, her short-term memory scores declined even though the word list was the same.  She obviously was aware of changes before testing could detect decline. Clients such as this are referred to as the “worried well.”  Professionals dismiss them as if they are not aware of their own bodies.  I find this particularly disturbing as progressive neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease […]

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I just returned from a speaking engagement in Tampa where I discussed “Treating progressive memory loss.”  The thing to note in the title is that the focus is on treating memory –there’s something you can do – rather than treating a disease – there’s confusion about what to do.  The treatment for Alzheimer’s disease needs to be proactive rather than reactive.  The focus of treatment is to plan for a good life (everyone’s long-term goal regardless of memory) as you age even if your memory declines.  There are two requirements of a good treatment plan.  First, build memory supports before you need them – use the One Minute Rule.  Second, build a life of engagement.  The popular advice is to learn something new or buy a brain fitness program.  Indeed, I recently read a neurologist’s suggested treatment plan for a […]

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It has become increasingly clear that most progressive dementias slowly unfold over the course of several decades.  For example, Alzheimer’s disease forms decades before there are any signs or symptoms.  It doesn’t appear suddenly or show up as a “conversion” from Mild Cognitive Impairment.   This is good news.  We can be proactive by life style and planning years ahead instead of just reacting to changes after they occur.  Life style interventions must start decades before problems show themselves.  The issue to resolve is what life style changes is worth the effort.  Exercise is the one factor that is emerging as a clearly protective of the brain.  Many short-term studies have suggested that increasing levels of fitness now pays benefits for future brain health.  The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, Cooper Clinic in Dallas, published a study that prospectively followed a large […]

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Alterations in short-term memory are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease as well as a whole host of other brain changes that can, in time, erode our ability to make complex decisions such as handling finances or making legal documents.  The changes are subtle in onset and slow in progression.  Neither our own self-evaluation nor that of competent professionals can detect the changes by observation in the very early stages.  Despite our personal beliefs about our selves, most will not “know” when to give up the finances or when to stop driving.  Changes in memory are not the province of medicine.  Medical screenings are insensitive to early changes in memory and brain scans produce too many false positive results.  Verbal learning tests used to assess short-term memory are better at detecting risk than are biomarkers such as PET scans. We need […]

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Depression comes in many forms. Mild depression may range from the colloquial use of “I’m having a bad day” to depressive symptoms that are not severe or pervasive enough to meet current diagnostic standards for Major Depressive Disorder (which is more severe and has to persist for at least two weeks). Dysthymia is an enduring but comparatively mild form of depression. Sadly, recent surveys indicate that as many as 40% of community dwelling elders (by most standards those over 55) have some form of depression. This puts those afflicted at greater risk of mortality and suicide as well as poorer quality of life than those who are not depressed. Does having a diagnosis of dementia increase the prevalence of depression in the elderly? The answer depends on the cause of dementia. The prevalence of depression in dementia due to Alzheimer’s […]

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