Archive for Non-Pharmacological Dementia Treatment

Innovations in the Alzheimer’s Care Environment

Long-term brain health is influenced by more than one factor; everything from a healthy diet to the outside environment can help promote a healthy mind. These factors are also thought to potentially delay the progression of cognitive decline, which is why Jean Makesh is using this concept to reenvision memory care homes for older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Typically, memory care centers often feel like a hospital or hotel and fail to convey the hominess that can potentially alleviate anxiety. Jean Makesh is changing that by building care communities that are designed to resemble the warm environment of a familiar neighborhood from the 1930s and ‘40s.

Each facility contains indoor courtyards, streets and faux golf courses, along with venues such as a movie theatre, fitness center, spa, library and 24-hour bistro. Although everything is indoors to protect residents from wandering, the environment does not hold them back. Residents can enjoy sitting on their own front porch, which encourages socializing between neighbors.

Fiberoptic ceilings mimic the sunrise and sunset, and display twinkling stars at night, to aid residents with their wake and sleep schedules. At mealtimes, appetite-boosting aromas are dispersed throughout the facility. And if a resident were to become agitated, the anxiety-relieving aroma of frankincense (derived from the gummy sap from Boswellia and Commiphora trees) is introduced into their room.

As a former occupational therapist in the skilled nursing industry, Makesh is well-versed in helping individuals excel at basic activities of daily living. He has meticulously designed every aspect of the facilities to allow people with Alzheimer’s or dementia to function at their maximum potential, even going so far as to offer classes on daily living skills. Some clients have even learned to bathe and dress themselves again.

So far, there are three Lantern centers in Ohio, and each one reflects the community that surrounds it. Although this facility may not cure dementia, it provides a safe space for individuals to thrive, promoting independence, well-being and happiness. Makesh does have plans to expand in the future, and until then, we look forward to hearing more about the success of the residents in their day-to-day lives.


10 Facts You Need to Know to Promote and Harness Neuroplasticity

Due to the limitations of pharmacological approaches to dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, scientists are relying more on non-pharmacological treatment plans, such as cognitive therapy, as a way to help delay the onset and slow the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline. Non-pharmacological interventions are based on the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize connections in the brain, create new connections and even create new neurons under some circumstances. Generally, neuroplasticity occurs in two instances: as a result of learning and experience or a result of damage to the brain.

The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is based heavily on the concept of neuroplasticity and takes advantage of the brain’s ability to create new connections by engaging 5 cognitive domains with activities. Below, we have compiled 10 important facts that you need to know in order to promote neuroplasticity in your day-to-day life for better brain health!

  1. Neuroplasticity is real, and it is more important than our genes. Neuroplasticity is a lifelong process and has far greater effects on our brain’s outcome than genes do.
  2. All physical exercise promotes brain function, but cardio is king. Exercising increases blood flow, brain volume and growth hormone levels, especially if it really gets the heart pumping. We recommend 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day, four days a week.
  3. Mental stimulation helps build cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is the brain’s protective mechanism that helps delay symptoms of cognitive decline, so engaging the brain helps protect it over the long-term.
  4. Overall brain health depends upon working a variety of brain functions. It is not enough to engage only our memory or attention; we need an assortment of activities to keep our brains healthy, which is why the Method targets five domains.
  5. Routines don’t challenge the brain, so try something new or increase the level of difficulty. Activities should be challenging enough where they can be fun, but still engaging. Try alternating between Sudoku and crossword puzzles to work on and improve different skills.
  6. A bigger, more complex social network has been correlated with a bigger amygdala. This area of the brain is responsible for emotion and behavior. Those with bigger social circles are also less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness.
  7. A Mediterranean diet can improve brain health and has the potential to reduce shrinkage. The assortment of fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil have proven to protect the brain against cognitive decline.
  8. Chronic stress can block neuroplasticity. Under extreme stress, we have all noticed lapses in memory or attention to detail. It is important to promote calm and focus for optimal brain health.
  9. No one solution works! A multi-pronged approach works best, so include a healthy diet, exercise regimen, social schedule and mentally engaging activities in your plan.
  10. In addition, know your limits. A professional caregiver or Cognitive Therapeutics Interventionist can help you create a brain health plan that fits your unique needs and preferences!

To learn more about neuroplasticity and ways to proactively boost brain health, read The Brain Boost: A Practical Guide to Brain Health, one of the award-winning books in Home Care Assistance’s Healthy Longevity Series.


Potential Reversal of Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Dale Bredesen, professor at both the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and at the Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Research at UCLA, announced that he may have found a potential treatment for the reversal of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The push for a cure for Alzheimer’s is strong as over 5.4 million Americans currently live with the disease.

Published in the journal Aging, Bredesen and his research team studied ten people who were experiencing age-related memory loss. Nine of the ten participants had genetic mutations in the APOE4 gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease, putting them at high risk. Participants used a technique called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND), a 36-point personalized regimen focused on a healthy diet, exercise routine, brain stimulation, sleep improvements, medication and vitamins for 5 months to 2 years.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans and neuropsychological testing, the team was able to assess the success of the customized programs for each individual. They found that the MEND technique drastically improved the lives of the participants: those that had to leave work due to their memory decline were able to return, and others who had reported struggling with work saw an improvement in performance.

The hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, often shrinks in individuals with Alzheimer’s. At the beginning of the study, one patient’s hippocampal volume was in the 17th percentile for his age range, but after following the MEND program for 10 months, this specific participant’s hippocampal volume increased drastically to the 75th percentile.

Health care professionals agree that a personalized approach to brain health is the best way to prevent and delay signs of cognitive decline. However, not all scientists support the MEND approach, as it includes treating conditions that could be associated with Alzheimer’s, such as inflammation, and incorporates supplements that are not well studied or do not require FDA approval.

Bredesen hopes to further prove that treating the underlying causes and mechanisms of the disease will help reverse symptoms. So far, his efforts have proved valid, though a larger sample size and longer study would further validate the effectiveness of the program.

In line with Bredesen’s approach, the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is a personalized, one-on-one program designed to keep aging minds sharp. The Method is customized to each client’s unique needs and offers a range of activities that are fun yet just challenging enough to keep the brain engaged, thereby possibly delaying symptoms of cognitive decline. The Method has been an integral part of Home Care Assistance’s approach to brain health for seniors over the past three years.

To learn more about the Method, visit today.


Cognitive Function May Be Impacted by Work Environment

Researchers from Florida State University studied the effects of the workplace on cognitive function and found that an unstimulating or unkempt workplace negatively impacts memory and reasoning skills. The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, expands on previous research examining the effects of one’s occupation on deficits in cognitive function later in their life.

Led by Joseph Grzywacz, the Norejane Hendrickson Professor of Family and Child Science, the research team analyzed data from 4,963 adults between the ages of 32 and 84 years old. Participants were part of the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, which aims to improve the understanding of how Americans age, including long-term brain health.

Data from the study included the participants’ employment status, place of work, job complexity, physical hazards in the workplace and workplace conditions, such as cleanliness. Cognitive function was assessed using the Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone, which tests episodic memory (memory of events and experiences), self-perceived memory and executive functioning (higher-level reasoning, problem-solving and more).

After analysis, results showed that both men and women working in unclean environments where mold, solvents or other work exposures were present, had an increased risk of cognitive decline. Their workplace environment negatively impacted both their episodic memory and executive functioning skills.

Researchers also found that more stimulating workplaces that offered employees the opportunity to learn new skills or take on new challenges enhanced the brain health of their employees. Greater occupational complexity resulted in better self-perceived memory among both men and women, while the association between a stimulating environment and greater episodic memory and executive functioning was strongest for women.

Whether at work or at home, a clean environment is important for brain health, as well as physical health. And stimulating activities, such as learning a new language, hobby or occupational skill, keep the brain engaged and help prevent cognitive decline associated with aging. The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ offers activities specifically developed to keep aging minds sharp. Learn more about the Method at


How Being Busy Benefits the Brain

The Dallas Lifespan Brain Study studied 300 people between the ages of 50 and 89 years old and found that a busy schedule was associated with better brain processing, memory, reasoning and vocabulary.

The research team hypothesized that a busy schedule might correlate with an engaged and active lifestyle, which they believed would lead to better brain health. In order to prove their hypothesis, the team administered an assortment of cognitive tests and the Martin and Park Environmental Demands Questionnaire (MPED). The MPED yields one score for busyness, which measures how often participants have too many tasks to complete or too little time in the day, and one for routines, which was not used in this study.

The results showed that participants who were busier, as shown by a greater busyness score on the MPED, had faster processing speed. These participants also had better working (short-term) memory, episodic memory (memory of events) and reasoning.

Even after controlling for age and education among participants, there was significant variance in cognitive abilities. Busyness accounted for this variance across all cognitive aspects, especially episodic memory. Lastly, the researchers found that busyness proved to have the same amount of benefits regardless of age, proving that an active, engaged lifestyle is healthy for brains at any age!

The research team noted that while many studies have assessed the benefits of brain-engaging activities, few have explored the brain health benefits of busyness, which often has a negative connotation. They are hoping that this study paves the way for future in-depth research.

Although being busy may lead to better brain health, it is important to note that long-term stress can negatively impact attention, memory, learning and more. As part of a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle, reduce stress and promote calm by trying 15 to 20 minutes of yoga three times a week. To learn more about the benefits of yoga, visit our blog, “Yoga Can Help Manage Mild Cognitive Impairment”.



Yoga Can Help Manage Mild Cognitive Impairment

yoga for brain healthA team of neuroscientists at the University of California in Los Angeles found that a three-month yoga and meditation course helped participants manage both the cognitive and emotional problems that arise prior to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The team found that participating in the yoga course was more effective than simply completing memory-enhancing exercises.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, compared the outcomes from yoga and meditation versus memory training, which included a range of activities such as crossword puzzles and modern computer games. There were 25 participants in the study, all of whom were over the age of 55.

Many participants had reported issues with their memory, including forgetfulness with names, faces or appointments, as well as the tendency to misplace items. Participants took memory tests and underwent brain scans at the beginning and end of the study to measure changes in behavior and brain activity.

The participants were broken up into two groups. The first group of eleven participants were required to spend 20 minutes per day on memory exercises along with one hour per week of memory training with the research team. Memory exercises included verbal and visual association and other research-backed memory-enhancing techniques. The second group of fourteen participants were required to practice Kirtan Kriya meditation at home for 20 minutes per day along with a one-hour class once a week in Kundalini yoga. Kirtan Kriya meditation includes chanting, hand movements and visualization of light. This practice has also been known among other meditation and yoga practices to delay symptoms of cognitive decline.

The research team analyzed the groups after three months. They found that both groups had improvements in verbal memory skills. However, the group that practiced yoga had greater improvements in visual-spatial memory skills, which is important in recalling directions and places. The yoga group also had greater reductions in depression and anxiety and were able to improve their coping and stress management skills.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans indicated the same results. Both groups had improvements in functional connectivity but the yoga group had greater improvements that were proven to be statistically significant. The researchers conclude that the benefits of yoga far outweigh the benefits of brain training because mindfulness practices such as meditation improve mood, reduce stress and inflammation, and enhance brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF), which is a protein that encourages the growth of connections between brain cells and helps replace lost or damaged genetic material.

The Cognitive Therapeutics Method Team recommends 15-20 minutes of daily meditation, yoga or prayer daily for optimal brain health! Learn more about the benefits of yoga and read our other brain health tips in our blog, “7 Tips for a Healthier Brain”.