New Study Shows That Dementia Symptoms Worsen in the Spring
In an article written by Sherry Christiansen for www.alzheimers.net last year, the case is made for how the seasons affect people with dementia.
Are you a caregiver for a parent or senior loved one with dementia? Have you noticed that your loved one exhibits various disease symptoms depending on the season? Recent research has found that the seasons do, in fact, have an influence on dementia symptoms. Learn more about the recent study and how dementia symptoms can worsen in the spring.
Dementia Symptoms Worsen in Certain Seasons
Experts have known that seasons can impact the brain for some time. Medical professionals have been aware that seasonal changes can result in a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder, and other mental disorders, like schizophrenia, are more likely to begin during the winter months. Recently, researchers aimed to find if there was a seasonal component to dementia as well.
What scientists discovered was that aging adults, both with and without dementia, were found to have worse cognitive skills in the spring and winter seasons, reports the study, published in PLOS Medicine.
“We had previously discovered that the change in seasons causes large-scale alterations in the nucleus and function of brain cells in older individuals. We hypothesized that, if brain cell function was changing so much… it might also be affected by seasonal rhythms,” states the co-author of the study, Dr. Philip De Jager, professor of neurology at Columbia University.
Study Shows How Dementia Symptoms Worsen in the Spring
Researchers took a close look at the findings in other studies of aging adults in Canada, France and the United States. These studies included 3,353 participants, who researchers conducted neurological and psychological testing on.
The study findings showed that there was a strong link between cognition and seasons. They showed that:
- Cognitive function was higher in the fall and summer months when compared with spring and winter
- The chance of getting diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that oftentimes precludes dementia, was 31% higher in the spring and winter months
- There was nearly a 5-year difference in age-related decline in the spring and winter months
In conclusion, the studies indicate that there is a significant association between cognition and season of the year in aging adults —including those with dementia. Increasing the number of clinical resources for treating dementia in the spring and winter months may lend itself to improving the overall treatment of the disease in the future.
“There may be value in increasing dementia-related clinical resources in the early spring and winter when symptoms are likely to be more pronounced,” the study authors explain.
Understanding that there is a scientific basis for the worsening of disease symptoms during the spring and winter seasons, may help caregivers to better prepare themselves for dementia symptoms and the overall needs of care recipients. # # #
First written in February of 2013 (and reprinted by huffpost.com), this article by Rita Altman has uplifting suggestions for relatives and caregivers who want to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day: The Perfect Day to Show Your Love to Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the most basic human needs is to feel loved, and Valentine’s Day presents the perfect opportunity for caregivers to meet this need for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Even though individuals with memory loss no longer have the same cognitive awareness they once did, they are still able to experience and express the full range of emotions, including love. The following are some ways that caregivers, family and friends can make Valentine’s Day extra special for someone with memory loss.
Use Music. Valentine’s Day can be a bittersweet time especially for couples that are trying to cope with the changes Alzheimer’s has made to their relationship. This holiday may bring back memories of past intimacy that no longer seems possible in the present. One way to feel this connection once again is to sing, play or dance with your loved one to their favorite love song. Research conducted by Petr Janata at the University of California, Davis, indicates that as Alzheimer’s progresses, an area in the medial pre-frontal cortex remains intact when most other areas of the brain have deteriorated. When a song elicits a memory, Janata explains, “[The] music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head.” Playing your loved one’s favorite song from the past may help to build a bridge to communicate with them in a new or different way but be prepared as it may evoke bittersweet memories for you as well. You may want to look for local support groups where you can share your experiences and learn from others in similar situations.
Reminisce. Due to the changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s, it is easier for people to recall events from the past than from the present. Therefore, a good way to connect with them is to talk about some special events from the past that they can still discuss and share their feelings about. When reminiscing with your loved one, it’s good to have props such as a photo album or mementos like a wedding gown available. It’s also important to keep in mind that instead of putting them on the spot by asking “don’t you remember” you should say “tell me about the time when…” If they don’t seem to be able to recall the people or places from the past try to avoid frustrating them and just move on by asking them what they would prefer to talk about, providing them with an empathetic listening ear.
Be Creative. Engage your loved one in making a Valentine for someone they care about. By simply gathering some paper, lace doilies and markers along with your simple step-by-step directions, you can give them the opportunity to do something meaningful by giving back to others. Most importantly, you are providing them with the chance to reach out to those they still love in a very powerful way. Just think about how special it would be for a friend or relative who is not able to visit regularly to receive a Valentine from the person with memory loss and know that they are still remembered and loved by them.
Stimulate Their Senses. Research also shows that familiar scents can trigger good memories as the nerve that senses smell resides very close to the areas of our brain that are associated with emotions and memory. By giving your loved one a bottle of their favorite perfume/cologne or a bouquet of flowers, you are giving them a sense of pleasure and well-being. In addition, depending on the person’s preferences and their stage of memory loss, they might enjoy receiving a soft tactile item such as a silk pillow or a stuffed animal. And don’t forget the chocolates! There are ongoing studies that indicate that chocolate contains compounds that may bring about a feeling of happiness, alertness and even increased blood flow to brain.
All of these suggestions are great ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day, however, remember that your care and support is still the best gift you can give to a loved one with memory loss. Even if he or she may not be able to speak or express their love for you, know that on some level they may still be able to sense that you are there for them. It’s important to know that your presence, gentle touch and soothing voice helps them know on this special holiday, and every other day, that they are still loved.
From an article by Markus MacGill on the website Medical News Today
Dementia: Symptoms, stages, and types
Dementia is a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline, such as forgetfulness. It is a symptom of several underlying diseases and brain disorders.
Dementia is not a single disease in itself, but a general term to describe symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, and thinking.
While the likelihood of having dementia increases with age, it is not a normal part of aging.
An analysis of the most recent census estimates that 4.7 million people aged 65 years or older in the United States were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that:
- just over a tenth of people aged 65 years or more have Alzheimer’s disease
- this proportion rises to about a third of people aged 85 and older
- Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80 percent of all cases of dementia
This article discusses the potential causes of dementia, the various types, and any available treatments.
Fast facts on dementia
- there are an estimated 47.5 million dementia sufferers worldwide
- one new case of dementia is diagnosed every 4 seconds
- dementia mostly affects older people but is not a normal part of aging
Dementia symptoms include memory loss, disorientation, and mood changes.
A person with dementia may show any of the symptoms listed below, mostly due to memory loss.
Some symptoms they may notice themselves, others may only be noticed by caregivers or healthcare workers.
The signs used to compile this list are published by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) in the journal American Family Physician.
Possible symptoms of dementia:
- Recent memory loss – a sign of this might be asking the same question repeatedly.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks – for example, making a drink or cooking a meal.
- Problems communicating – difficulty with language; forgetting simple words or using the wrong ones.
- Disorientation – getting lost on a previously familiar street, for example.
- Problems with abstract thinking – for instance, dealing with money.
- Misplacing things – forgetting the location of everyday items such as keys, or wallets, for example.
- Mood changes – sudden and unexplained changes in outlook or disposition.
- Personality changes – perhaps becoming irritable, suspicious or fearful.
- Loss of initiative – showing less interest in starting something or going somewhere.
As the patient ages, late-stage dementia symptoms tend to worsen.
Sometimes, dementia is roughly split into four stages:
Mild cognitive impairment: characterized by general forgetfulness. This affects many people as they age but it only progresses to dementia for some.
Mild dementia: people with mild dementia will experience cognitive impairments that occasionally impact their daily life. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, personality changes, getting lost, and difficulty in planning and carrying out tasks.
Moderate dementia: daily life becomes more challenging, and the individual may need more help. Symptoms are similar to mild dementia but increased. Individuals may need help getting dressed and combing their hair. They may also show significant changes in personality; for instance, becoming suspicious or agitated for no reason. There are also likely to be sleep disturbances.
Severe dementia: at this stage, symptoms have worsened considerably. There may be a loss of ability to communicate, and the individual might need full-time care. Simple tasks, such as sitting and holding one’s head up become impossible. Bladder control may be lost.
There are several types of dementia, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by “plaques” between the dying cells in the brain and “tangles” within the cells (both are due to protein abnormalities). The brain tissue in a person with Alzheimer’s has progressively fewer nerve cells and connections, and the total brain size shrinks.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies is a neurodegenerative condition linked to abnormal structures in the brain. The brain changes involve a protein called alpha-synuclein.
- Mixed dementia refers to a diagnosis of two or three types occurring together. For instance, a person may show both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time.
- Parkinson’s disease is also marked by the presence of Lewy bodies. Although Parkinson’s is often considered a disorder of movement, it can also lead to dementia symptoms.
- Huntington’s disease is characterized by specific types of uncontrolled movements but also includes dementia.
Other disorders leading to symptoms of dementia include:
- Frontotemporal dementia also known as Pick’s disease.
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus when excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain.
- Posterior cortical atrophy resembles changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease but in a different part of the brain.
- Down syndrome increases the likelihood of young-onset Alzheimer’s.
Holidays can be challenging for families affected by Alzheimer’s. Try these tips to make the holidays easier and enjoyable for everyone.
The holiday season can cause mixed feelings for a family affected by Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
While typically a time for celebration, families may experience a sense of loss for the way things used to be. For caregivers, the holidays may create added work. You’ll also have to consider the needs of the person with dementia during holiday decorating and gatherings.
By adjusting your expectations and modifying some traditions, you may find meaningful ways to celebrate holidays.
Creating a safe and calm space
To create an appropriate environment during the holidays for the person with dementia:
- Tone down decorations.Avoid blinking lights or large decorative displays that can cause confusion. Avoid decorations that cause clutter or require you to rearrange a familiar room.
- Avoid safety hazards.Substitute electric candles for burning candles. If you light candles, don’t leave them unattended. Avoid fragile decorations or decorations that could be mistaken for edible treats, such as artificial fruits. If you have a tree, secure it to a wall.
- Play favorite music.Familiar or favorite holiday music may be enjoyable. Adjust the volume to be relaxing and not distressing.
Adapting holiday activities
To help the person with dementia enjoy the holidays:
- Prepare together.Mix batter, decorate cookies, open holiday cards or make simple decorations. Focus on the task rather than the outcome.
- Host a small gathering.Aim to keep celebrations quiet and relaxed.
- Avoid disruptions.Plan a gathering at the best time of day for the person with dementia. Keep daily routines in place as much as possible.
- Provide a quiet place.If you are having guests over, provide a quiet place for the person with dementia to have time alone or to visit with one person at a time.
- Plan meaningful activities.You might read a favorite holiday story, look at photo albums, watch a favorite holiday movie or sing songs.
- Keep outings brief.If you’ll be attending a holiday gathering, plan to be brief or be prepared to leave early if necessary. Make sure there is a place to rest or take a break.
Celebrating at a care facility
If your family member lives in a nursing home or other care facility, try these ideas:
- Celebrate in the most familiar setting.Because a change in environment can cause distress, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility. You might participate in holiday activities planned for the residents.
- Minimize visitor traffic.Arrange for a few family members to drop in on different days. A large group may be overwhelming.
Preparing holiday visitors
To help visitors prepare for holiday time with a person with dementia:
- Provide an update.Let guests know ahead of time about any changes in behavior or memory since their last visit. Providing a recent photo can help people prepare for changes in appearance.
- Offer communication tips.Suggest ways for guests to listen patiently, such as not criticizing repeated comments, not correcting errors and not interrupting.
- Suggest activities.Tell guests ahead of time what activities you have planned or suggest something they might bring, such as a photo album.
Taking care of yourself
Self-care is crucial for caregivers during the holidays. To make the season enjoyable:
- Pick and choose.Focus on the holiday activities and traditions that are most important to you. Remember that you can’t do it all.
- Manage others’ expectations.Set realistic expectations for what you can contribute to family holiday celebrations.
- Let family and friends help with cleaning, addressing cards and shopping for gifts.
- Make time for yourself.Ask a family member or friend to give you a break so that you can enjoy a holiday outing without caregiving responsibilities.
Trusting your instincts
Simplifying celebrations, planning ahead and setting boundaries can help you minimize stress and create a pleasant holiday experience for you and the person with dementia.
The First Survivor is Out There
This year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s was held on October 26, 2019 and according to Sonya Branco, Development Director at the local Alzheimer’s Association, it was a resounding success. The San Luis walk that began on a beautiful day in Mission Plaza is the largest in the county and gathered more than 600 participants.
“One of the largest teams is organized by the Sigma Kappa Sorority girls who raised almost $50,000 this year for the fifth year in a row,” said Branco.
Sydney Creek Memory Care also made a good showing, raising $1500 and bringing three of its residents to the Walk. Community Relations Coordinator, Danny Danbom (pictured), led the team and carries the banner for quality care for residents and families at Sydney Creek.
There are about 10,000 people in our county who suffer from dementia. Your Alzheimer’s Association provides care and support to families dealing with any type of dementia. This includes 11 support groups each month county-wide, and more than 90 classes each year. They also offer a Respite grant for families who cannot afford home care.
This year’s goal for the county was $182,000. “We are currently at $142,000 and will be taking donations until the end of the year,” said Branco. “You can donate at act.alz.org/slo and it is completely tax deductible.”
Like the TV ad says, “The first survivor of Alzheimer’s Disease is out there. But we can’t do it without you.” # # #
Take a Walk with Us!
As the optimistic TV ad currently claims, “The first survivor of Alzheimer’s Disease is out there,” and in the next breath states, “But we won’t get there without you.”
In the U.S. alone, someone develops Alzheimer’s Disease every 65 seconds; more than 5 million Americans are already living with the disease; and it’s the 6th leading cause of death in this country.
The stats are daunting, and the ripple effects are impossible to calculate. Established in 1980, The Alzheimer’s Association has been working tirelessly to help those afflicted, support their loved ones, and find a cure. And they need your help. One of the best ways is by participating in their largest fundraiser, The Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer’s Walk is scheduled in our town, San Luis Obispo, on Saturday, October 26th. You can register online ahead of time at https://act.alz.org/site or just show up and register on site at 9 a.m. at Mission Plaza, 751 Palm Street. A moving ceremony will begin at 9:30 and the Walk itself starts at 10 a.m.
No matter your age, gender, or fitness level, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s welcomes all participants, and though it’s inspiring to join a team and the other walkers at the event, you don’t even have to actually walk to show your support. Just call Sonya Branco at 805-547-3830 or email her at Sbranco@alz.org for more information. The Village at Sydney Creek has formed a team of walkers (one of many!) and you can join them, too. Just Google The Walk to End Alzheimer’s in San Luis Obispo and you’ll be taken to a website where you can find a team and join it.
“When you participate in the Walk,” says the website, “your fundraising dollars fuel our mission, and your participation in the event helps to change the level of Alzheimer’s awareness in your community.”
Take a walk with us on October 26th and help us find the first survivor of Alzheimer’s Disease.
This article is reprinted from the Alzheimer’s Associations website: www.alz.org dated Chicago, June 2019
New Alzheimer’s Campaign Encourages Families to Discuss Cognitive Problems Sooner, Enabling Early Diagnosis
It’s a conversation no family wants to have — talking to a loved one about memory loss or cognitive decline. Close family members are typically the first to notice memory issues or cognitive problems, but they are often hesitant to say something – even when they know something is wrong. A new survey released today by the Alzheimer’s Association reveals that nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they would want others to tell them if they were showing signs of memory loss, thinking problems or other symptoms of cognitive decline. However, nearly 3 in 4 Americans say that talking to a close family member about memory loss, thinking problems, or other signs of cognitive problems would be challenging for them.
During Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month this past June, the Alzheimer’s Association aimed to bridge the current communication gap with tools to help people talk about cognitive concerns sooner. A new national campaign created in partnership with the Ad Council is the first-ever collaboration between the two groups and features real stories of people who noticed cognitive changes in a family member and took the first, difficult step to initiate a conversation. Designed to help encourage conversations that may be difficult but could prevent a crisis and improve health options and outcomes, the campaign was created pro-bono by the community.
“Discussing Alzheimer’s is challenging for families and this campaign tackles the issue directly,” said Michael Carson, Chief Marketing Officer, Alzheimer’s Association. “Initiating conversations sooner can enable early diagnosis, which offers many important benefits, including allowing more time for critical care planning, better disease management and providing diagnosed individuals a voice in their future care. The ad campaign is designed to encourage and empower people to have productive conversations before a crisis occurs.”
Every 65 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. It is America’s sixth leading cause of death, affecting more than 5 million Americans and 16 million caregivers. Despite Alzheimer’s growing impact, many families struggle with discussing the issue.
Ed Ortiz, 52, from St. Helena, Calif., featured in the ad campaign, recalls the moment he knew it was time to have a conversation with his mother Cynthia Guzman. “My mom stopped at a stop sign and didn’t know what to do next,” he said. “It was an unsettling moment for both of us, but I knew she needed help.”
Guzman’s indecisive moment behind the wheel helped start a conversation that ultimately led to her Alzheimer’s diagnosis at age 63; she has had the diagnosis for eight years. “As difficult as it was receiving my diagnosis, I was grateful to have my son’s support,” she said. “He reassured me and he has been there for me ever since.”
“It’s understandable that many families are reluctant to express their concerns and initiate a conversation, but there are good reasons to do so,” said Ruth Drew, director of information and support services, Alzheimer’s Association. “Early detection and diagnosis puts individuals and families in the best position to navigate a devastating disease. Avoiding the conversation and letting problems progress is the worst thing you can do.”
The campaign demonstrates the importance of family members trusting their instincts and proactively raising concerns. The message, “When something feels different, it could be Alzheimer’s – now is the time to talk,” will be important for shifting people from being passive when they observe potential symptoms, to taking an important step and having a conversation.
By highlighting heartfelt, relatable stories of people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, this new critical campaign will help ease the challenges associated with starting this difficult conversation. We hope it will encourage audiences to notice the signs early, trust their gut, and have a talk. Having this conversation early can make a big difference in the lives of those who have been diagnosed and their families,” said Lisa Sherman, president and chief executive officer of the Ad Council.
Video stories of caregivers, including Ortiz, who saw the signs and started a conversation, are designed to help illustrate how other families can do the same. Additionally, the campaign’s website (ourstories.alz.org) offers families tools and resources, including customizable conversations starters, a list of early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s, benefits of early diagnosis, a downloadable discussion guide and other resources.
In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association helps families and friends navigate challenges and considerations at each stage of the disease, through face-to-face conversations with experts in local communities, our free 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) and comprehensive support and resources on alz.org. # # #