The latest installment of NPR's series, Inside Alzheimer's
Keeping your brain in good health
According to a study by the University of Pittsburgh, regular exercise like walking or lifting weights keeps your brain healthy and could reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the author of the study, psychology professor Kirk Erickson, “brain size shrinks in late adulthood, which can cause memory problems.” Their study showed that simple exercise like walking 30-45 minutes three days a week could increase brain volume, particularly in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, regions of the brain important for memory.
Nearly three hundred healthy adults participated in the study, recording the distance they walked each week. Nine years later, researchers measured the brain size of participants using brain scan technology. After another four years, participants in the study were tested again. By that time, 116 of the nearly 300 participants had developed cognitive impairments or dementia.
The results were astounding. The study showed that those participants who walked the most reduced their risk of memory problems by half.
If you’re concerned about developing dementia as you age, you are not alone. The good news is that regular exercise in midlife can significantly improve brain health and memory in late life. Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself; so get out and get moving!
Share with us! Tell us how you like to get out and get moving in the comments section below.
The Alzheimer's Association offers a wonderful website that is a wellspring of information on every issue surrounding Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
On their site you can find all kinds of valuable resources such as a list of early signs to watch for, an explanation of the seven stages of Alzheimer's, advice for caregivers and advice on living with the disease for those who have been diagnosed.
You can also find your local chapter and help in your community.
For me, my understanding of Alzheimer's disease dramatically changed after learning about what happens to the brain. See the Alzheimer's Association's Interactive Tour; Inside the Brain, for more on how the disease affects this vital organ.
The Alzheimer's Association offers a 24/7 helpline that you can reach at 1.800.272.3900.
Malnutrition, simply put, means not getting the right amount of food or the right kind of food that meets our basic nutritional requirements. Unfortunately, malnutrition is a growing problem among older Americans. Did you know that one in three older adults admitted into US hospitals each year is malnourished upon admission?
There are many reasons why some seniors are not getting the proper food in the proper portions. Limited mobility makes it difficult to prepare food, and many are dependent on others to do their grocery shopping. Cognitive limitations can greatly impair eating behaviors. Some seniors simply forget to eat, or are unable to have a meal without the help of a caregiver. Anxiety and depression are common among older adults, and can lead to loss of appetite.
Malnourished seniors suffer from a much higher risk of poor health outcomes. While we arguably need a more determined national response to address malnutrition among older Americans, the solution to this problem can start at home with caregivers, family and loved ones.
If you have a senior in your life who is living alone, consider making an effort to ask them about their meals and eating habits. When I worked as a caregiver for seniors, I could learn a lot about a client's nutrition by taking a peek in their fridge. Too often, the fridge was nearly empty or much of the food was expired.
Our ability to have and prepare food is something we take for granted in our daily lives, but this very basic human need can become a source of anxiety and pain for our aging loved ones. We can help by keeping this in mind. Check the fridge and the pantry, buy groceries, bring meals that have already been prepared with clearly marked expiration dates. Together, we can make a difference in fighting senior malnutrition.
I just love this. NPR's Radiolab gives us the story of how a nursing home in Düsseldorf, Germany came up with a creative way to keep their patients with Alzheimer's and dementia safe and satisfied.
Watch Henry's story from the Music and Memory iPod Project; Alive Inside Documentary.
The health benefits of taking life less seriously
Our sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools we have to stay in good health. Laughter decreases stress hormones and boosts the immune system. It even relieves physical tension by relaxing the whole body. Humor improves our mood and shifts perspective, helping us see our situation in a different light.
But a study has shown that humor can do even more than that: it can be as effective as medication in treating agitation in patients with dementia, without the serious drug side effects.
The study was conducted by the University of New South Wales, spanning thirty-six aged care facilities across Australia. Researchers employed a “humor practitioner,” not unlike a clown, to train staff how to incorporate playfulness and humor while engaging patients with dementia.
The study showed a twenty percent reduction in agitation using humor therapy, which compares to the results expected with the common use of anti-psychotic drugs. Happiness and positive behaviors steadily improved during the course of the 12 week program and when humor practitioners left at the end of the program, these rates dropped.
With dementia rates continuing to rise, specialized training and creative solutions may hold the key to improving our understanding toward the better care of patients.
For more information about Humor Therapy, visit the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.
Share with us! Tell us what gets you laughing in the comment section below, and spread the joy.
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