In this month’s blog, we are talking about Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a brain disorder that affects memory, thinking skills, and the ability to carry out simple tasks.
The disease was named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer a German psychiatrist who oversaw the treatment of Auguste Deter, a woman in her fifties who suffered from memory loss, mania, insomnia, and agitation. She was admitted to a mental hospital in Frankfurt in November 1901. Dr. Alois Alzheimer diagnosed her with presenile dementia.
Upon her death, Dr. Alzheimer, did an extensive study to find the correlation between her symptoms and her medical records. He found, the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that controls memory, language, judgement, and thinking were severely impaired.
Today Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, and is more common in women than in men. It’s a neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. Unfortunately, there is no cure, however, there are treatments that can help slow the progression of symptoms.
- Personality change
- Social withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Aggressive behavior
- Change in sleep habits
These are the most common, so if you are experiencing these symptoms, please reach out to your doctor and get a proper diagnosis. If, you notice these symptoms in a loved one, doctors suggest discussing your concerns with them and accompanying them to the doctor’s appointment.
To get a diagnosis, the patient would undergo a physical exam that would include, reflexes, muscle tone, strength, sense of sight and hearing, and coordination and balance. Lab tests would be done, as well as, mental status and neuropsychological testing to assess memory and other thinking skills. Finally, brain imaging would be done which could include CT, MRI, or PET scans.
Early-onset occurs between the ages of 30-60 years old. Late-onset occurs at age 65 or older.
An estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 or older are living with Alzheimer’s. Seventy-three percent are over the age of 75. Almost 2 out of 3 Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
The number of older Americans is growing rapidly, and so will the number of new cases of Alzheimer’s. By 2050 the number of people 65 and older could grow to 12.7 million assuming that there are no new medical advancements to slow or cure the disease.
Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death in Americans 65 years or older.
REDUCE YOUR RISK
- Maintain cognitive health
- Have a diet that includes a lot of fruit and vegetables
- Spend time with family and friends
- Keep your mind active
- Maintain control of diabetes
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Stop Smoking
- Get help for depression
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Get plenty of sleep
There are many medications that can help slow the progression of the disease. The treatment ranges from mild symptoms to severe. While these drugs may help improve symptoms they are not a cure. Some medications have side effects that include nausea and vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, weight loss, and loss of appetite.
Some medications should be used with caution, such as sleep aids, which can cause more confusion and are more likely to cause a patient to fall. Anti-anxiety medication can also cause sleeplessness, dizziness, falls and confusion in patients that have Alzheimer’s disease. Anti-convulsant and anti-psychotics can also have serious side effects.
Researchers are working on developing tests that can measure signs of the disease processes in the brain. Tests include, blood tests that improve the accuracy and earlier diagnosis, before the onset of symptoms.
In clinical trials, scientists are developing many possible interventions that include immunization therapy and drug therapy.
Genetic testing is not recommended unless there is a family history of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Before undergoing this test, it is recommended that you meet with a genetic counselor to discuss the risks and benefits.
A person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease can live on average 4 to 8 years, but can live as long as 20 years.
Once you or your loved one has been diagnosed, it is recommended that you build your support team. This includes doctors and other medical professionals, family, friends, neighbors. As well as learn about your community resources. Your loved one should participate in the plan of care to the extent that they are able. It is important for the patient who has been diagnosed to be heard.
Determine who will take care of scheduling doctors’ appointments and who will accompany you or your loved one to those appointments. Other things to consider are; the shopping, finances, and meals.
At some point, your loved one may be at risk of falling due to loss of balance. You may consider installing handrails and removing anything that could put your loved one at risk of falling. You may need to lock up medications, install alarms, or disable the stove when not in use. The temperature on the water heater may need to be lowered to prevent burns.
Driving is another potential safety concern. We all like the independence that driving gives us, take it away and we might feel trapped, resentful, or angry, even if it’s for our own safety. If your loved one is not ready to give up driving after talking to them you may need to enlist the help of their doctor. They can help determine whether your loved one should continue to drive based on disease progression.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) is a great resource on how to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease. They talk about how to respond to some of the challenges that you may experience. For instance, if your loved one is agitated, NIA suggests listening to your loved ones’ concerns, speak calmly and reassure them. They also suggest that having a routine is helpful, as well as, keeping familiar objects around their living space. Reducing noise and clutter helps them to feel more secure. The link below has a lot of useful information so please make sure to check out this link.
Being a caregiver can be exhausting, and emotionally and physically demanding. The caregiver often neglects their own health, and can suffer from 1 or more chronic health issues. These health issues can impact the quality of care you provide to your loved one.
As a caregiver, it’s important to look after your own health. By maintaining your health, you are better able to care for your loved one. So, how do you do that? Take the time to continue with a healthy diet and exercise, get plenty of rest and spend time doing things you enjoy. While it might seem difficult to do, it’s important. With shared responsibilities you will have more time to look after your health, which allows you, the caregiver, to provide better care.
Aromatherapy is based on the theory that oils derived from plants have beneficial properties. There is evidence that aromatherapy can be effective in helping people with dementia to relax and that certain oils have the potential to improve cognitive function in people who have Alzheimer’s disease.
The sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses that we have and it has the ability to stimulate the brain and to do it quickly. The power of smell can have you recalling memories for example, the smell of a certain perfume can remind you of a special someone, or the sweet aroma of an apple pie can remind you of the Thanksgiving holidays.
The healing art of aromatherapy is being used a lot more often to help stimulate brain power. Some essential oils do just that. Something fascinating happens neurologically when your nose comes in contact with the air after you have sliced a lemon. The scent that is released into the air triggers the brain to release dopamine the “feel-good” chemical in your brain. You smell the scent of the lemon and all of a sudden you feel happier!
Lemon balm has been highlighted to improve mood and thinking in people with Alzheimer’s, and research also shows that lavender oil can reduce the occurrence of aggressive behavior.
Other essential oils such as rosemary and coriander can help enhance memory, and lavender and geranium can help induce calmness and reduce stress.
In one study patients with Alzheimer’s were given rosemary and lemon inhalations every evening and showed significant improvement in personal orientation than those that did not and without side effects.
In a recent trial, essential oils included ylang-ylang, patchouli, peppermint, and rosemary among others, showed a significant reduction in behavioral disturbances, in the majority of patients. This led to a reduction in the dosage of prescribed medications.
Research is still being done to provide more evidence in the benefits of aromatherapy.
In an article in the Acupuncture Times, they discuss the effects of acupuncture in patients with Alzheimer’s. They mention that numerous cases have shown that acupuncture can improve cognitive function and the ability to perform daily tasks.
Dr. Nancy Emerson Lombardo and a team of colleagues at Wellesley College did a study of 11 patients, 10 had Alzheimer’s and 1 had vascular dementia. In the study, patients were treated with acupuncture twice a week for three months receiving at least 22 treatments. The same patients also received a variety of tests before and after that included the Cornell Scale for Depression, the Speilberger State Anxiety Inventory and the Mini-Mental Status Exam (MMSE) for cognitive function. Researchers found significant improvement in their scores, mainly depression and anxiety. The Speilberger State Anxiety score decreased from 49.5 at the start to 40.1 after three months. Four patients experienced an increase in mood symptoms after acupuncture treatments, two patients also showed improved MMSE scores and a third saw improvement in naming abilities and fluency.
Dr. Lombardo stated that patients receiving treatment were noted to have shown improvement in thinking skills. She believes that this is indicative of a close relationship between cognitive ability, anxiety and depression. However, cognitive function was not scientifically studied as there wasn’t a controlled study group.
Dr. Kao’s study of eight patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease was treated at the University of Hong Kong. Treatment included needling in the scalp, wrists, and feet. The treatment consisted of needling that lasted 30 minutes which, consisted of needling and reinsertion every 10 minutes. They were treated for seven days and given a three-day break before starting another 7-day cycle which was repeated over a span of 30 days.
Patient’s were graded using the TCM (Chinese Medicine) checklist for Alzheimer’s and MMSE. They were tested for their level of orientation, memory and the ability to follow both verbal and written commands, as well as, their ability to write and name objects. After being treated, Dr. Kao and his colleagues reported that these patients had significantly improved motor skills, verbal skills and overall scored higher MMSE scores. The clinical improvements reported on the TCM checklist, indicated a reduction in the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The studies by Drs. Lombardo and Kao are important because they represent a step forward in research between acupuncture and Alzheimer’s Disease, which could lead to safer and less expensive forms of care for millions of Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
Gingko is an herb that helps with short term memory loss and depression. In Alzheimer’s patients it helps reverse or delay mental deterioration of early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Herpezine A is typically used to help memory, and to reduce inflammation and fever. This herb also improves cognitive abilities and behavioral functions according to the Wechseler Memory Scale and Hasegawa Dementia Scale.
Herbs have a low toxicity level in comparison to many medications used to treat Alzheimer’s. According to recent studies, herbs show great promise in early treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease and can be used in conjunction with prescribed medications.
There is a lot of scientific research being done to prevent the onset and progression of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. It’s important to contact a provider if you or your loved one is experiencing these symptoms. We can hope that in our lifetime we will see a cure that will end this horrible disease but until then we at MassageCraft wish you good health and happiness during this holiday season.
There is some good information on Alzheimer’s Disease and how to help your loved one. Please check out the links below.