10.03.16 DeMystifying Alzheimer’s with Mary Yamin-Garone
Good afternoon. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today I’ll be talking more about treating Alzheimer’s symptoms without drugs or supplements.
Interest in cognitive training or brain exercise and cognitive rehabilitation has increased recently as baby boomers and healthy seniors seek ways of sharpening their memories and minds.
According to Dr. David A. Loewenstein, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami School of Medicine, early studies of brain-training in those with early Alzheimer’s show that cognitive stimulation programs, which typically involve memory exercises and games designed to ramp up overall brain activity, may not be as helpful as cognitive rehabilitation.
Cognitive rehabilitation, which is commonly used to treat brain injuries and help older adults recover from traumas like heart attacks and strokes, can help individuals with mild Alzheimer’s improve their ability to perform certain tasks. Cognitive rehab isn’t ready-made for treating AD, acknowledges Loewenstein, who explains that AD progressively damages parts of the brain employed in many standard rehabilitation techniques.
While individuals with early AD may have difficulties with explicit memory—knowledge of facts, knowing what happened when—they tend to retain their implicit or procedural memory, such as the skills involved in eating and grooming.
Fact: Conversation may sharpen memory as much as brain games. Socializing—even talking to someone for 10 minutes—was found to boost memory and stimulate the mind as much as mental exercise, electronic games and puzzles among seniors who took part in a 2007 University of Michigan study.
Nontraditional treatments used in addition to conventional therapies are sometimes called complementary care. Before starting any alternative treatment find out if the benefits outweigh the risks.
Elemental to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has shown promise in treating mood problems and anxiety in small, scientific studies at Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and at the University of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong study showed cognitive improvement among eight people with AD who were treated with acupuncture for 30 days. While a small sample size, researchers are further investigating acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating mood and behavioral disturbances associated with Alzheimer’s.
Flower and plant oils have been used for centuries to soothe the mind and body. One British study showed that lemon balm reduced agitation in Alzheimer’s sufferers. Some patients and caregivers have experimented with lavender oil, which is thought to aid in relaxation, and jasmine, which may boost alertness. Some eldercare facilities use aromatherapy to help calm residents. It’s worth noting, however, that many people with Alzheimer’s lose their sense of smell as the disease progresses.
Walking through a museum or art gallery and looking at photos, paintings or sculptures can be pleasant and stimulating, particularly for someone who’s having difficulty with language and communication.
Recent studies of bright light therapy suggest it may be useful in lifting mood and aiding sleep in those with AD. Environmental light affects your body’s 24-hour biological clock and too little light exposure can throw off that sensitive balance. Since the 1980s, mental health professionals have recommended bright light therapy to individuals suffering from a depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s believed to occur in those whose bodies produce excess melatonin—a hormone that helps control body temperature and sleep—during low-light months in the fall and winter. Some studies show that exposure to bright light can suppress the brain’s production of melatonin, help regulate the body’s internal clock and lift mood.
As we age, our eyes let in less light. Researchers theorize this can lead older people’s bodies to produce more melatonin. Increasing your loved one’s exposure to natural light can be as simple as going for a walk outside first thing in the morning. Light therapy for Alzheimer’s sufferers may help improve mood and realign their body’s internal clock.
Massage can help relieve muscle tension, promote relaxation and alleviate anxiety and stress. It also can cause your body to release natural painkillers and may boost your immune system. Though few studies have been done on massage therapy for someone with Alzheimer’s, some caregivers believe it can reduce episodes of wandering and other agitated behaviors. Massage therapy also can help your loved one sleep better.
Older adults with AD and other memory disorders have been treated successfully with music therapy. It’s been found to lift mood, improve your loved one’s interest in daily activities and reduce aggressiveness and resistance to care. Music can be therapeutic whether it be at an outdoor concert, in a car, at home or in any number of nonclinical settings. Singing to music or playing music also seem to have therapeutic benefits.
Early and middle-stage Alzheimer’s impairs cognition but doesn’t eliminate the need to engage in meaningful activity, move about as freely as possible and interact with the rest of the world. Walking a dog, attending a religious service or planting a garden can help make your loved one feel like a person, not just someone suffering from a disease.
Dogs, cats and other domestic pets can provide companionship and comfort to older people and may help lower stress and anxiety in someone with Alzheimer’s. Groups like ASPCA train people-pet pairs. If you think your loved one would benefit from animal companionship, you might consider having them go through the training.
More and more nursing homes and assisted living facilities are welcoming therapy dog visits. The occasional canine presence seems to calm agitated residents and also can promote social interaction among those with Alzheimer’s.
Pet therapy doesn’t have to involve one-on-one contact with animals. Bird watching and looking at an in-home aquarium can be therapeutic, too, particularly if your loved one is in the later stages of the disease.
Alzheimer’s experts encourage family and caregivers to help their loved one continue observing religious practices and traditions. Taking someone with AD to religious services, however, isn’t always easy. Some places of worship have special room designed for parents with noisy children, which also can be used for someone with Alzheimer’s who becomes disruptive. You might want to look into religious services at a nearby senior center, where other worshippers may be suffering from AD, too.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I hope this information was helpful.
Join me next time for more Demystifying Alzheimer’s.