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Environmental Issues That May Impact Alzheimer’s

Scientists have long thought that there was one part of the brain, the medial temporal lobe, that was used only for memory. But new research suggests that the medial temporal lobe could also control how we perceive objects and the world around us. The study, which was led by researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Toronto, in partnership with the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, shows that memory impairments may be related to difficulties distinguishing between objects that look similar. Researchers gave subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) a test to determine their ability to differentiate between images such as an apple and a butterfly that were displayed side by side. Some of the tests were more challenging than others and tested subjects’ abilities to see the difference between two images that were the same but rotated or tilted on an axis.

The results of the study demonstrated that individuals with memory problems have greater difficulty distinguishing objects visually in their mind than those without memory problems. This finding may partly explain why an individual with later stage dementia may have a hard time recognizing a loved one’s face. While memory plays a role, visual perceptions may be distorted and contribute further to such problems.

This research suggests that caregivers should pay special attention to the living environment of a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and take care to reduce “visual clutter.” Carpets or furniture with busy patterns may cause more frequent falls or injuries. Table settings should be solid, distinctive colors to help individuals see their utensils and food. Everyday activities such as using a telephone may become difficult because the buttons on the phone all look the same. If different size and color buttons are used instead, dialing a telephone might become an easier task. Some changes require simple manipulation of the environment while others may require purchasing items from a senior care resource store.


Healthy Living for a Healthy Brain

Dr. Daniel Amen is a physician, psychiatrist, and expert on brain health. He is also the founder of the Amen Clinics, which use brain imaging technology to understand and treat patients with a variety of illnesses. He was recently interviewed on Bob Costas’s show, The State of the NFL before this year’s Super Bowl. He talked about the harmful effects of head injuries in football players as well as his own research.

Dr. Amen believes that keeping your brain healthy is key to living a longer life and avoiding Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Dr. Amen stresses that it is never too late to achieve a healthier brain because of the brain’s amazing ability to rehabilitate itself. At Dementia Therapeutics we have the same philosophy, which is why we have created a variety of interventions that improve brain health and increase functioning.

As people age, a number of lifestyle changes occur. Less social interaction may lead to decreased involvement in recreational activities. Diet and exercise become less of a priority and we become less cognitively engaged. Dr. Amen argues that several lifestyle activities can lead to a healthier brain, including diet and exercise. The foods we eat make up who we are and if we aren’t getting the right nutrients, our brain also suffers. Dr. Amen advises a diet full of fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids as well as an exercise routine that involves coordination or some other skill such as dancing.

Life-long learning is also important according to Dr. Amen. He advises participating in educational activities in order to continue to stimulate the brain. The more we use our brains, the longer and better they will function. Finally, there are negative emotional correlates associated with unhealthy brain activity. We must learn strategies for coping with such changes. Much of what Dr. Amen advises supports Dementia Therapeutics’ values and beliefs about how to live a healthy life for a healthy brain.


Music Therapy for Dementia Care

Listening to music is a passive activity that almost everyone enjoys. It is relaxing, decreases stress and simply puts people in a good mood. The use of music for individuals with dementia is therefore a beneficial activity that can also provide cognitive stimulation as well as opportunities for social interaction and reminiscence. The positive effects of music therapy are beginning to become acknowledged by those who work with individuals with dementia. Nursing homes and senior living facilities are finding ways to incorporate music into the everyday lives of their patients. Even companies that develop activity programs for dementia have found new, innovative ways to use music as an engaging activity. MindStart is one such company that was designed by an occupational therapist with the goal of improving the lives of patients with dementia. They provide interactive activities that also help caregivers and reduce stress. MindStart recently teamed with a music therapist who created a series of DVDs called Music Through Life which was created for older adults with memory loss.

The other reason music therapy is specifically beneficial for an individual with dementia is because the cognitive decline associated with the disease doesn’t affect the music and emotional memory centers of the brain until much later. Because these neuronal pathways are preserved, music is an activity that can allow individuals to connect with others about past memories or enjoy songs they have known since young adulthood. Many of those who suffer from some form of dementia lose their livelihood and verbal communication becomes very minimal. While it is not the case for everyone, music can have such a profound positive effect for patients with dementia. They often seem to come alive by engaging in conversations about the music, tapping their feet or even dancing. The best part about music therapy is that it is easy to use and is unlikely to produce negative results.


Dementia Friends

The prevalence of dementia continues to increase dramatically as the baby-boomer generation gets older and life spans continue to increase. As more and more of us begin to either experience or encounter those who have some form of cognitive impairment, it is important to increase our understanding and change the way we think about dementia. A new organization based in England called Dementia Friends aims to turn understanding into action by changing the way people act, think and talk about dementia.

Most people have heard the word dementia, but not everyone fully understands what it means and what life is like for a person who experiences such symptoms. The goal of Dementia Friends is to improve everyday life for people with dementia by helping them feel understood and included in their community. By educating people about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, we will notice and be more inclined to help those who find themselves in difficult situations due to cognitive failures.

A dementia friend is simply someone who gives a helping hand to those who might have forgotten the way to the store or which bus to take. Dementia friends are also people who volunteer and help support an understanding of dementia. The organization hopes that 1 million people will consider themselves dementia friends by 2015. While Dementia Friends started in England, it is an encouraging effort that would benefit people on an international level.